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Buildings Research

NREL is transforming energy through the integration of building science and innovation to strengthen the resiliency, efficiency, and affordability of energy systems around the world.



Major R&D program areas for buildings research at NREL include building energy modeling, communities and urban districts, sensors and controls, systems technology, thermal energy science, windows and lighting applications, and advancing industry innovation.

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Building Energy Modeling

NREL leads the development of physics-based models that accurately capture system-level effects and performance. Our laboratory leads the development of EnergyPlus®, the nation's state-of-the-art, physics-based building energy simulation engine, and OpenStudio®, another free, open-source software that makes it easier for private-sector software developers to leverage EnergyPlus. With these and other software development projects, NREL is driving incorporation of building science and advanced data analytics within building energy design, renovation, and operation.

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Communities and Urban Districts

We are focused on developing energy solutions that enable affordability, resilience, and flexibility in communities, districts, and cities. We leverage URBANopt (Urban Renewable Building and Neighborhood optimization platform) to conduct R&D on new foundational open-source analytical capabilities to help identify the most promising technology development pathways for district-scale energy science. Our research is expanding to include residential communities in non-urban environments.

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Sensors and Controls

Within the internationally recognized Energy Systems Integration Facility, NREL is leveraging machine learning, advanced data analytics, and physics-based modeling and simulation to optimize building design and operations.

NREL research expands technical understanding of energy subsystems (e.g., smart appliances, electric vehicles, building controls, integrated renewables, local storage) and their ability to use sensors and controls to enhance grid services. Proven solutions include:

  • Controlling residential loads to deliver high-fidelity grid services and interoperability
  • Identifying power quality issues in highly efficient homes with electric vehicles
  • Enabling the scaling of demand response impacts and risks with multiphysics hardware-in-the-loop.
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Systems Technology R&D

NREL buildings research supports optimized building system design through:

  • Analysis and prioritization for systems efficiency and optimization
  • Field and laboratory validation and experimentation to support the development and optimization of technology packages and building components
  • Technical industry engagement and inter-laboratory coordination for high-impact innovation
  • Modeling and visualization of building energy efficiency opportunities within U.S. residential and commercial building stock through the development of ResStock and ComStock modeling and analysis tools.
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Thermal Energy Science

The laboratory's new thermal energy science research area focuses on the development, validation, and integration of thermal storage materials, components, and hybrid storage systems. This research can provide energy storage solutions for affordable integrated clean energy pathways. Research activities include:

  • Development of advanced building-scale thermal energy storage technologies
  • Integration of thermal energy storage with other forms of energy storage, renewable energy, and loads
  • An inter-office energy storage project in collaboration with the Department of Energy's Vehicle Technologies Office, Building Technologies Office, and Solar Energy Technologies Office to provide foundational science enabling cost-effective pathways for optimized design and operation of hybrid thermal and electrochemical energy storage systems.
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Windows and Lighting

Our strategic approach to windows and lighting applications research includes core programmatic window R&D, combining computational and experimental analysis to evaluate performance and durability of high-insulating materials in varied product formats.

Additionally, our research on next-generation, multifunctional glazing combines high thermal performance, switchability, and energy generation into a unified durable window platform. This research leverages NREL's breakthrough science in SwitchGlaze, the world's first switchable photovoltaic window.

NREL is also building a research portfolio in solid-state lighting, leveraging NREL's expertise in photon management for PV applications. Current research is focused on realizing solid-state lighting systems with high efficiency and enhanced functionality.

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Industry Advancement

For building science and innovation to realize industry impact, research results and knowledge must be real and accessible to stakeholders. NREL's diverse Advancing Industry Innovation projects, such as the Integrating Energy Efficiency and Distributed Energy Resources into Advanced Manufacturing of Buildings Project, focus on three foundational objectives:

  • Translating industry challenges into scientific problems by identifying barriers to inform early-stage research
  • Ensuring transfer of research knowledge to stakeholders, fostering improved industry best practices
  • Strengthening a workforce that will support building science-based designs, greater skill within the construction trades, and high-performance building operation.