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Emerging Techs Find Their Place in Efficient Federal Buildings

06/26/2015 8:00AMSign-up to receive press releases.

Kevin Powell, Green Proving Ground Program Director, GSA Public Buildings Service (PBS)

In February, the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) reported a 29.8 percent reduction in building energy use intensity (EUI) over 2003 levels in federally-owned buildings—well on track to meet the 30 percent goal for fiscal year 2015 set forth by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA). In addition, as a result of EISA and other federal mandates and executive orders, GSA's buildings are now 40 percent more efficient than the latest Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey average for U.S. commercial office buildings.

But the agency will not be resting on its laurels anytime soon. In March, President Obama signed Executive Order 13693, Planning for Federal Sustainability in the Next Decade, calling for a 2.5 percent annual reduction in building EUI through 2025 over 2015 levels. To meet this new goal, GSA will continue to implement a variety of strategies to improve energy performance.

The Green Proving Ground (GPG) program was launched by GSA in 2011 when, in response to the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act requirements to "green" federal buildings, it became apparent that GSA's already efficient buildings would be hard-pressed to meet sustainability goals with existing solutions. In search of next generation high impact technologies that will transform federal building performance, GSA established GPG to evaluate innovative building technologies under real-world operating conditions and make recommendations for their deployment throughout GSA's portfolio.

In many sectors, the U.S. enjoys a rapid rate of technological innovation, but new technologies in the commercial building industry have seen relatively slow uptake. In a highly cost-sensitive market where most key players have little incentive to stray from what is proven, the commercial building industry has been slow to embrace emerging technologies. Support for early research and development is substantial, with funding sources like the Department of Energy's Advanced Research Projects Agency—Energy and numerous emerging technologies programs at federal, state, and local levels; investment in the deployment of emerging technologies...not so much.

According to some industry analysts, four out of five building technologies fail to cross the technological "valley of death" and achieve market acceptance because of the financial and operational risks they pose to early adopters. GPG absorbs this risk and accelerates market acceptance by using GSA's portfolio as a real-world test bed for new technologies. Working with the Department of Energy's National Laboratories, GPG evaluates technologies in tenant-occupied, operational workspaces. Technology performance assessments are developed by the combined efforts of GSA and the national laboratories, and provide credible, comprehensive information that is pivotal in determining deployment opportunities. By evaluating technologies in the pre- or early-commercial stages of development, GPG facilitates and accelerates the transition between bench-scale technology and commercial viability.

GPG assesses technologies in several categories—building envelope, energy management, HVAC, lighting, water, on-site power, and renewables—with 20 ongoing technology evaluations across the country. Among them are LEDs with integrated controls, electrochromic windows, and socially driven HVAC. Results for 21 technologies have been published to date, with 12 technologies identified as having broad deployment potential.

Since the publication of GPG's first technology evaluation on wireless sensor networks for data centers in March 2012, GSA deployed five GPG-evaluated technologies in 215 locations nationwide, resulting in annual energy savings of 170,000 mmBTU—the equivalent annual energy consumption of almost 5,000 homes. As GPG advances beyond its formative years and expands its technology database, the program will continue to provide actionable data to inform investment decisions that can lead to additional portfolio-wide energy savings.

The commercial building industry needs many more game-changing technologies to meet ambitious performance goals, and, more fundamentally, to mitigate the impact of the built environment on America's natural resources. Every autumn, GPG invites technology manufacturers and industry stakeholders to submit information on promising technologies through a Request for Information on fedbizopps.gov. With that information, GPG selects technologies it believes will make a difference in the way we operate our buildings.

Learn more at gsa.gov/GPG

Mr. Powell focuses on identifying innovative technologies, practices, and process that optimize how PBS designs, delivers and operates federal buildings.


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