Energy Efficient Buildings: A Substantial Resource For The Electric Grid

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In the US, buildings’ electricity consumption is 75%. Buildings have the potential for reducing the demand and saving energy.


The researchers at the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) conducted an extensive new study that answers questions of how buildings can be more flexible and energy-efficient in both time (time of day plus year) and space (regions across the U.S.). Scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), were also part of the research team.

The study concluded that the demand for nearly one-third of gas-fired power and coal can be avoided by utilizing building demand management technologies. This means that half of the power plants need not be built between now and 2050 while online transitioning.


Jared Langevin, lead author of the study and Berkeley Lab researcher stated that “A key reason why we don’t hear more about the role of our buildings as a significant resource for the clean energy transition is because it’s been challenging to quantify that resource at a large scale – and without hard numbers at scale, it’s hard for policymakers or grid operators to plan around it.”

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“Our overarching belief here was that producing these kinds of estimates that make the role of these demand-side building technologies more concrete will help ensure that we do more to encourage the deployment of those technologies alongside the deployment of renewable generation and batteries,” he added.

“We’re excited to collaborate with Berkeley Lab on these research findings, which emphasize the impact of our nation’s buildings to achieve a decarbonized energy system,” said Achilles Karagiozis, director of NREL’s Building Technologies and Science Center.

Major demand for electricity is from homes and workplaces, which includes water heating, powering appliances, air conditioning, and powering lights. This is termed as a grid resource by the researchers.

The researchers suggested that the most effective measure is preconditioning for residential buildings as precooled homes reduce the use of air-conditioning at peak hours and for commercial buildings using heat pump water heaters to manage plug load by controlling the use of computers and other gadgets for the electricity in a building.

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“Our initial estimates suggest tens of billions of dollars in annual cost savings potential for grid operators – not to mention the potential energy cost savings for families and businesses,” said Karagiozis. “Buildings are also a significant source of flexibility for grid operators, primarily in dialing down electricity demand during times when it would normally be at its peak, such as during really hot summer days when most air conditioners are running.”

“Indeed, the flexible resource we found is comparable to higher-end projections of battery deployment needs under higher renewable energy deployment. Texas and the Southeast of the U.S., as well as the Great Lakes and Mid-Atlantic regions, are areas with high population, strong space conditioning needs, and lots of electric equipment already installed. This information at the regional scale is really important for developing tangible policies for realizing the resource that we’re reporting,” added Langevin.

Various Strategies are already under process which the study identifies for capturing the possible building-grid resource. For instance, recently National Roadmap for Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings was released by DOE which draws outcomes from the study and further provides proposals for tripling the flexibility and efficiency of the building industry by 2030.

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“Continued efforts along these lines will be critical for establishing a key role for the buildings sector in the future evolution of the U.S. electricity system,” said Langevin. “Our findings are encouraging, but now we need to find ways of quickly putting this resource into practice.”

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