New ARPA-E Projects Will Advance Efficient Buildings, Windows, Electric Grid

December 3rd 2012
Prototype of the building mapping instrument package

ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects – Energy) has announced 66 research grants to develop transformational energy technologies. Two projects were awarded to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) researchers. Researchers from Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD) will also participate in a third project awarded to the University of California, Berkeley.

Three-dimensional maps of commercial buildings improve energy efficiency

Philip Haves, leader of EETD's Simulation Research Group will lead a project to develop the sensing and computer hardware for generating physical and thermal maps of the interiors of buildings. The goal of Rapid Automated Modeling and Simulation of Existing Buildings for Energy Efficiency is to reduce the energy consumption of existing commercial buildings through computer simulation of building energy use. The project will receive up to $1.9 million in funding.

"To do this, and do it in a lot of buildings, we need better, cheaper, faster ways to generate computer models of the buildings we want to improve," says Haves. He and his team plan to produce three-dimensional indoor maps of buildings using cameras and laser scanners, transferring this data to building simulation software. The cameras and scanners will be mounted on a backpack; a person wearing the instrument package will walk through the rooms in the building to make a video of the building's interior and exterior. A computer will then turn this video into a digital model of the building.

The computer simulations will allow building architects and engineers to design more energy-efficient buildings. Building simulations can help increase energy efficiency by identifying how a building is failing and what maintenance staff can do to tune up its energy-consuming systems, suggesting equipment upgrades for better energy performance, and ensuring that improvements are installed correctly and are delivering the expected energy savings.

Haves believes this technology can reduce the cost of building simulation by 30 to 40 percent, as well as the time it takes to develop a building model.

Berkeley Lab's team is collaborating with UC Berkeley Professor Avideh Zakhor, who leads the Video and Image Processing Lab in the Electrical Engineering and Computer Science Department, and Oliver Baumann of Ebert & Baumann Consulting Engineers in DC.The image processing techniques and the prototype backpack have been developed by Zakhor's group.

New electrochromic windows technology

Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry will receive up to $3 million in ARPA-E funding to develop low-cost coatings that control how both light and heat enter buildings through windows. The research team, led by the Foundry's Delia Milliron, will develop a new electrochromic window coating technology, which can respond to changing weather conditions by regulating the visible light and heat entering a building through its windows, reducing energy usage. The Molecular Foundry team will work with Stephen Selkowitz's Windows R&D team of EETD and with Heliotrope Technologies.

By separately tuning the incoming infrared (heat) and visible (light) components, this technology will improve the energy efficiency of buildings by reducing the need for air conditioning and electric lighting, and enhancing the comfort of occupants, by managing the visible light that enters. The goal of the project is to apply these coatings to windows using inexpensive techniques similar to spray-painting a car.

Advanced monitoring for the electric grid's distribution system

The California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) at the University of California, Berkeley, will receive up to $4 million in arpa-e funding to develop a device to monitor and measure electric power data from the grid's distribution system. Alexandra von Meier, Co-Director in CIEE's Electric Grid program area is the project's principal investigator, and she will be joined by Sila Kiliccote and David Watson of the Environmental Energy Technologies Division, who will model and measure distribution lines on electric grid.

"What's innovative about this work," says Watson, "is that while there are measurements on transmission lines, no one has been making measurements on distribution lines, where renewable resources are being added. "This research will help enable more renewable power to be integrated on the grid, and it will lead to amore stable grid, less affected by the intermittency of renewable power."

Allan Chen