September 18, 2009
  Stimulus-Funded DOE Research Invests in the Building System and Sustainability Technologies of Tomorrow
Looking out beyond “design ready,” the DOE prepares for the economy’s sustainable recovery

by Zach Mortice
Associate Editor

Summary: There is approximately $130 billion allocated for building and construction funding in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) economic stimulus package. Much of this money funds the construction of previously designed buildings—“shovel-ready” projects that are meant to stimulate the economy and create jobs immediately. Of more interest to architects (and advocated by the AIA’s Rebuild and Renew advocacy plan) are the “design ready” initiatives that will create new opportunities from conception to construction for architects.

As part of the continually increasing portion of this stimulus money aimed at long-term investments in transportation, energy, the environment, and community development, the Department of Energy (DOE) is spending billions on buildings systems research and alternative energies that will support architects’ mission to create a more sustainable economy and world. Call it “research ready”—the ARRA’s longest-term interest in providing design professionals with the tools, resources, and information to do their jobs better and more sustainably.

From the DOE’s $38.7 billion of economic stimulus funding, the agency is spending $1.6 billion for investments into its own laboratory infrastructure and $400 million on advanced research projects. The DOE’s Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) department received $16.8 billion from the ARRA, a significant portion of which will be used to research, develop, and deploy sustainable building systems and alternative energy technology. This money (mostly in the form of grants to university labs or private sector companies, including design firms) will fund projects most closely supportive of architects’ work.

Building Efficiency Initiative
Of most interest to architects is the DOE’s $346 million Building Efficiency Initiative. This grant money will investigate building envelopes, lighting, photovoltaics, advanced sensors and control, and more.

The $100 million Advanced Building Systems Research fund will focus on researching how sustainable building systems can best be integrated into whole buildings. This money will also support and accelerate the agency’s research on net-zero energy buildings. Currently, the EERE department has as its goal the construction of net-zero energy homes in all five domestic climate zones by 2020 on a cost-neutral basis for consumers.

Seventy million dollars will be distributed via the Residential Building Development and Deployment program. This initiative will develop business models for neighborhood-scale energy efficiency home retrofits, helping such nascent business models gain traction in the marketplace. The DOE’s Builder’s Challenge will be supported and accelerated by the funding as well. This program signs on builders to construct homes that are at least 30 percent more energy efficient than typical homes.

The Commercial Building Initiative will allow the DOE to create more public-private energy efficiency partnerships. Currently, the agency maintains 23 partnerships with private sector companies that own and operate large fleets of sizable commercial properties, like Home Depot, Wal-Mart, or PNC Bank. In these partnerships, the DOE provides companies with technical and design expertise, and the private firms agree to retrofit existing buildings to make them 30 percent more energy efficient than the ASHRAE 90.1 standard. They also agree to design and build new facilities that are 50 percent more efficient than code. The ARRA’s $53.5 million will allow the DOE to add 40-60 more partnerships.

Among other things, the $72.5 million Buildings and Appliance Market Transformation fund will train commercial building operators on how to use their buildings more efficiently.

Alternative energy research
The EERE department is receiving funds for advancing geothermal, solar, biomass, wind, and utility-scale community renewable energy projects.

$400 million for geothermal energy, including:

$117 million for solar energy, including:

  • $51.5 million for photovoltaic technology research that will aim to make solar energy more cost-competitive with traditional forms of energy
  • $25.6 for solar power research and development that will focus on improving the reliability of concentrating solar power technologies
  • $40.5 million for solar energy technology deployment that will focus on non-technical barriers prohibiting solar power use, like grid connection, market barriers to solar energy adoption in cities, and the shortage of trained solar energy installers.

$800 million for biomass energy, including:

  • $480 million for biomass demonstration and pilot program projects
  • $110 for biomass energy research, including $50 million to support the research of algae biomass energy.

$93 million for wind energy, including:

  • $45 million for wind turbine drive train research, development, and testing
  • $14 million to research the use of lighter weight, advanced materials for turbine blades, towers, and other components, as well as process controls for lamination, blade finishing, and painting
  • $24 million for wind power research and development for partnerships between universities and private industry that will focus on material design and performance measurements
  • $10 million for the National Wind Technology Center in Colorado, which will use the funding to perfect wind turbine drive train systems.

$22 million for utility-scale community renewable energy projects that will examine how multiple types of alternative energies can be deployed at a neighborhood-scale.


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Visit the AIA’s government advocacy Rebuild and Renew site and the Navigating the Economy site.

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