US Department of Energy opens Flexlab to drive building efficiency

Genentech is among the first to use it to test systems for its new South San Francisco offices

The flexible design building will test low-energy systems and components

The world’s most advanced energy efficiency test bed for buildings was launched this month by US Department of Energy (DOE) Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman.

Built at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Flexlab is already signing up companies determined to reduce energy use by testing and deploying the most energy efficient technologies as integrated systems under real-world conditions.

Flexlab includes a rotating testbed which can track with the sun. In the first test bed experiment, leading biotech company Genentech is using Flexlab to test systems for a new building at its South San Francisco headquarters.

'At Genentech, we are constantly innovating and following the science, so we were excited to apply this approach to energy efficiency and building optimisation,' said Carla Boragno, Genentech Vice President for Site Services. 'Flexlab represents a new type of experiment for us, and presents the opportunity to be first-in-class in another area of innovation.'

Flexlab allows users to mock up facilities, such as this interior by Webcor for biotech firm, Genentech. That’s what Bay Area-based builder Webcor – Genentech’s contractor – hopes to find. In Flexlab’s pre-launch private-sector experiment, Webcor is using the rotating test bed to plan a 250,000 ft2 building, which includes a built space that mimics Genentech’s interior office space and will test for user comfort and utility.

'We are running tests and gathering data that will allow us to maximise the Genentech building’s energy-efficiency potential,' said Webcor CEO Jes Pederson. 'Flexlab could revolutionise the way we plan and build energy-efficient buildings.'

Recognising that building inefficiency is a critical obstacle to achieving US clean energy and emissions goals, DOE issued a Request for Proposal in 2009 for a new kind of testing facility to address the challenges buildings face in achieving deeper levels of energy savings. Many buildings are designed to be energy efficient, but once they are up and running, can use a lot more energy than planned. To close that achievement gap and accelerate breakthrough technologies, Berkeley Lab competed and won the US$15.9m contract to build Flexlab, a testament to the Lab’s long history of energy efficiency innovations.

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