Buildings that Act Like Guinea Pigs for Energy Efficiency: The Puget Sound Regional Council Plan for Green Jobs

9/2/10

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worked on cleantech, we see it as a big emerging opportunity for our economy, and then this report that just came out that said energy efficiency was where our strength lies, so why not build on a strength?”

But rather than just raise a bunch of money and use it to fund emerging energy efficiency companies, the Prosperity Partnership had to figure out a way to take a small amount of capital, and turn it into an engine that would help churn out more and more local companies.

This desire to build a catalyzing ecosystem was the genesis of the BETI Center. A 40-person steering committee made up of industry experts and community stakeholders was formed to iron out the kinks.

A key problem many companies, developers, and investors face when reviewing energy efficiency technologies, the committee found, is that they fail to live up to their laboratory—or marketing—promise. “The number that we’ve heard anywhere from 10 to 30 percent less energy savings, on average, than what is promised for new energy efficiency goods and services,” Schinfeld says.

The wide margin of error can be attributed to three varying factors. The first is climate, which, along with weather, “can have a big impact on energy use in buildings,” he says. The second is the human factor. “People do things like open a window, or turn on a thermostat, and all of your best-laid plans get thrown off,” he says. Lastly, energy efficiency technologies are often tested in empty buildings, so the first two variables are often times not even considered in the calculation. “So how do you solve this issue of actually verifying and certifying that these new goods and services are going to work in the real world?” Schinfeld says.

The BETI Center would seek to solve this problem by allowing technology companies to come together in one place and test and demonstrate efficiency levels in real buildings—rather than empty ones—for a more accurate data reading.

“We said, what if we could recruit a bunch of real buildings throughout the state of Washington? Go to building owners, and building operators, and facilities management companies, and say, ‘we want to install these technologies in your building. The benefit to you is your building will run more cheaply, you’ll get the green sheen of having a very energy efficient building, and then the benefit to the entrepreneurs is they get this real-world testing,’” Schinfeld says. “We’re essentially creating guinea pig buildings around the state to be able to do this work.”

This is the kind of shared infrastructure that Schinfeld says everyone in the energy efficiency space can benefit from. “For the utilities and the energy service companies [ESCOs], they need to know because they are promoting these technologies,” he says. And for the entrepreneurs looking to sell their technologies to utilities, energy companies, investors, or even incubators like the McKinstry Innovation Center, testing a product at the BETI Center would serve as proof that it actually works in a real-time environment. “Demonstration and certification of new technology is No. 1,” says Schinfeld.

The second aspect of the BETI Center is slightly more complicated. The central laboratory, where the center would test new technologies and monitor the “guinea buildings” equipped with those technologies, would also serve as a collaboration facility for energy efficiency companies to innovate in a group environment— a “‘sandbox’ where people would come together and work jointly on integrated technology developments,” as Schinfeld describes it.

“Energy efficiency in buildings is not a product, it’s an outcome. And it’s an outcome of a number of very diverse factors all working together. It’s how you build a building, it’s where you build a building, it’s what materials you use in the building, it’s what you put inside the building, it’s how you operate those things that are inside the building,” Schinfeld says. “Most people are in their companies, developing their technologies that are a piece of this. You’re an architect, or you’re a software person, or you’re a Weyerhaeuser developing building envelope products, but they’re not working together—so how do you do that?”

The answer, he says, is by integrating the technologies that you’re building so that they can work together, seamlessly, from the earliest stage—development.

The solution the group zeroed in on: creating a central place for testing and integration of energy efficiency technologies and certifying that they work as advertised. Being able to point to … Next Page »

Thea Chard is a correspondent for Xconomy Seattle. You can e-mail her at theachard@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/theachard. Follow @

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