FLEXLAB® Celebrates Second Anniversary

October 5, 2016

Researchers at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory are celebrating the second anniversary of the Department of Energy's FLEXLAB®, one of the world's most advanced facilities for studying the energy performance of building systems.

FLEXLAB — Facility for Low-Energy Experiments in Buildings — completed its first two years in operation with partners from industry, universities, public utilities and federal agencies. Nine new projects are scheduled for Fiscal Year 2017, which starts October 1, 2016.

Jerry Meek, energy and sustainability manager for Genentech, used FLEXLAB to measure potential energy use in a new office building at the biotechnology company's South San Francisco location. It was so successful in predicting energy use that Genentech is considering another FLEXLAB contract.

"Basically, all of our testing — for employee comfort, visual and thermal considerations — was done before the building was built," Meek said.

The building, now complete, uses 70% less energy per person than our typical office buildings, Meek said.

Some highlights from the Genentech project:

  • Lighting is a major energy user in new commercial buildings, and knowing how much natural light will fall on people's desks and computer screens will help the team design efficient lighting systems. The tests in FLEXLAB enabled the Genentech design team to figure out how to create the lighting systems in order to reduce glare and enhance the ambient light throughout the workspace.
  • For heating and cooling, the research team was able to program FLEXLAB to mimic building conditions throughout the day and seasons, taking advantage of natural heating and cooling. FLEXLAB's rotating test bed moves a matched pair of test cells moving slowly on a turntable, mimicking a building's orientation with great accuracy.
  • The FLEXLAB team can also study the visual comfort of office workers, controlling interior blinds and designing exterior shading.

An innovative characteristic of the Genentech building is that it has no private offices. Workspaces are set up based on individual employee needs, rather than confining a worker to a particular space. When a need arises — whether it's for a private telephone call, a conference room or computer work — the space is available and it is in the best energy-use location for that function. The FLEXLAB team was able to model the characteristics of a typical open work space and make smart energy recommendations.

Extreme Simulation

Users, including private industry, can test energy-efficient building systems individually or as a unit, under real-world conditions.

"Fiscal Year 16 was a pillar year for FLEXLAB with the facility building on the previous year's launch success, conducting a growing field of research project activities, continuing widespread outreach efforts and receiving enthusiastic support from industry sponsors," said Cindy Regnier, executive manager of FLEXLAB

The FLEXLAB test cells can test a wide variety of building components and systems in any combination, including:

  • Heating and air conditioning systems
  • Lighting, daylighting, and windows
  • Building thermal envelope
  • HVAC and lighting control systems
  • Plug loads

International Interest

Singapore is particularly interested in FLEXLAB and consulted with the team here to build its own similar operation, Skylab, at the top of a six-story building in Singapore. Multi-year consulting work continues in this collaboration.

Projects for 2017 include nine projects — five for DOE-funded work and four for industry, the California Energy Commission and public utilities. In addition, the FLEXLAB group will be developing flexible, networked lighting control systems. New capabilities for FLEXLAB include the addition of solar panels and battery storage. These additions will allow user to integrate renewable energy systems and storage in building operations.

FLEXLAB is the latest in Berkeley Lab's long line of game-changing energy-efficiency innovations.


Karyn Houston