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National Labs Partner for Better Building Efficiency

April 26, 2010

Photo of an area in the produce section at a Whole Foods Market. NREL researchers Michael Deru and Ian Doebber are pictured in front of a display of peppers, squash, and other vegetables. They are pulling down a gray, woven shade, or 'night curtain', from above them which is meant to cover the refrigerated case. Enlarge image

Details matter when it comes to saving energy. NREL Senior Engineer II Michael Deru and NREL Mechanical Engineer II Ian Doebber examine the night curtains that cover the refrigerated produce at the Whole Foods Market in Golden, Colorado. Covering open refrigerated cases when the store is closed is a proven energy efficiency strategy.
Credit: Pat Corkery

Commercial buildings use a lot of energy, and building owners and operators foot the bill for that energy. It usually isn't hard to get owners and operators to improve energy efficiency, because the result is reduced operating costs, a healthier bottom line, and bragging rights as good corporate citizens. But energy systems in commercial buildings are complex, and it can be hard to know where to start without expert help.

This is where Commercial Building Partnerships (CBP) comes in. Through this new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) initiative, commercial building owners and operators can tap the expertise of national laboratories and private-sector technical experts to help them save money and energy across their building portfolios. The Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) are managing the process, which is funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Speeding the Transition to Energy Efficiency

To add a sense of urgency to this effort, not only do commercial buildings use a lot of energy, but they use a lot of energy for a long time. Large office buildings, for example, are still in use an average of 70 years after they're built and a third are still in use after 100 years.

Photo of a meat counter at a Whole Foods Market. The image is taken from the inside of the meat counter looking out into the store at NREL researchers Michael Deru and Ian Doebber. Also pictured is Dale Moore, Meat Team Leader at Whole Foods. Enlarge image

Left to right, NREL Senior Engineer Michael Deru, NREL Mechanical Engineer Ian Doebber, and Dale Moore, Meat Team Leader at the Whole Foods Market in Golden, Colo., examine the store's new meat display. Refrigeration is one of the systems that Whole Foods Market is assessing, because grocery stores use a lot of energy to keep meat and other products fresh and attractive.
Credit: Pat Corkery

By teaming commercial building owners and operators with laboratory researchers and private-sector technical experts, CBP accelerates the deployment of energy efficiency measures into the marketplace. In the process of working through their projects with the building researchers and technical experts, building owners and operators learn about replicable, cost effective energy saving measures that they can apply across their extensive building portfolios. Including private-sector technical experts further speeds the process, because they will share the information and experience gleaned from CBP with other clients.

To reach an even wider audience, publicly available case studies will describe each CBP new construction and retrofit project in detail. This documentation will make it straightforward for building owners and operators outside of the CBP initiative to benefit from the work.

Owners and operators of planned new and retrofit buildings must commit to substantial energy savings in the selected projects.

"CBP participants will create buildings with measured energy savings of at least 50 percent for new construction and 30 percent for existing buildings," said Paul Torcellini, group manager for commercial building research at NREL. "This initiative is unique because it demonstrates that it's cost-effective to make buildings more energy efficient, and that energy-efficient buildings are easy to replicate."

A Successful Collaboration

Photo of the interior of a Whole Foods Market. The image is an aerial shot of the produce section. In the top right corner of the image is a close-up view of one of the light fixtures used in this area. In the photo are Michael Deru, a researcher at NREL, and Kyle Maier, a Whole Foods Market Produce Team Leader. Enlarge image

NREL Senior Engineer Michael Deru, left, measures light levels at the Whole Foods Market in Golden, Colo., as Kyle Maier, Produce Team Leader, looks on. Because Whole Foods Market is committed to offering customers high-quality, attractively displayed merchandise, one of the challenges of improving energy efficiency is reducing lighting energy use without compromising customers' shopping experience.
Credit: Pat Corkery

NREL researchers have long experience working with industry to improve energy efficiency. One company NREL works with is Whole Foods Market, a national food retailer.

Whole Foods is well known for its commitment to natural and organic foods. It comes as no surprise that the company also has a commitment to better buildings.

"We've had internal green building standards in place for years, but our work with NREL has helped us focus more specifically on reducing energy use in our stores," said Kathleen Loftus, Global Leader, Sustainable Engineering, Maintenance, and Engineering.

Grocery stores use significant amounts of energy for refrigeration, comfort cooling and heating, and lighting. Whole Foods has additional requirements because of its customer-centric business model and commitment to high quality, attractively displayed merchandise.

Each store works hard to deliver a positive shopping experience through everything from exceptional customer service to displaying "food as art." The challenge is preserving the look and feel of the stores while reducing the energy required to operate them.

"Working closely with local, regional and national Whole Foods staff as well as the company's private-sector consultants, we identified energy efficiency measures that reduce energy consumption without compromising the shopping experience," NREL Senior Engineer Michael Deru said.

Both Whole Foods and NREL benefit from this collaboration. NREL researchers learn the importance of considering business sensitivities and constraints as well as technical solutions. If the energy efficiency measures NREL recommends are consistent with the company's business goals, it greatly improves the probability of successful deployment in other stores.

As a result of their access to NREL technical expertise, Whole Foods has learned how to further reduce energy use and operating costs.

"NREL researchers have expertise in all areas of building energy end use, state of the art efficiency technologies, and renewable energy sources," Loftus said. "And they even understand supermarket construction and energy requirements and challenges, and that's no small feat!"

New Opportunities

The three participating DOE laboratories — NREL, LBNL, and PNNL — have released a call for projects for commercial building owners and operators and a request for proposals from technical experts. Retailers, commercial real estate companies, hospitals, educational institutions and other commercial building owners and operators now can take advantage of national laboratory technical expertise to improve the energy efficiency of their facilities. To submit a project for consideration, they can go to

In addition, technical experts interested in helping commercial building owners and operators achieve significant energy savings in their facilities can respond to the new request for proposals at

Getting Involved in Commercial Building Projects

Commercial Building Partnerships consists of two new interrelated opportunities — a call for projects aimed at commercial building owners and operators interested in substantially reducing energy use in their buildings, and a request for proposal targeted at commercial building technical experts willing to help achieve those energy reduction goals. Building owners and operators receive no direct funding, but have access to the technical expertise of both national laboratory personnel and private-sector technical experts under contract to the national laboratories.

Call for Projects for Building Owners and Operators

To get involved, owners and operators review the information at and submit plans that improve the energy efficiency of new or existing buildings. If their project is selected, owners and operators gain access to state-of-the-art technical guidance during the design, construction, and evaluation of their projects. This technical expertise includes guidance with energy modeling, assessing and choosing appropriate energy efficiency measures, and energy performance verification. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is extending the deadline to submit Commercial Building Partnerships (CBP) call for projects applications until 12 p.m. (noon) Eastern time on May 28, 2010.

Request for Proposals from Commercial Building Technical Experts

Technical expert teams and measurement and verification technical contractors interested in providing technical guidance to the successful applicants can respond to the request for proposals at

Technical expert teams need to provide a broad range of technical expertise including all or some of the following areas: architecture, engineering, HVAC and controls, daylighting, lighting, energy modeling, commissioning, building auditing and data collection, and cost estimation. Using American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, the participating national laboratories will contract with technical experts to provide this guidance. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is extending the deadline to submit Commercial Building Partnerships (CBP) call for projects applications until 12 p.m. (noon) Eastern time on May 28, 2010.

— Greg Stark

—Heather Lammers