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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 Measurement Science for Building Energy Technologies The primary core competency for this Strategic Priority Area is measurement science for building energy technologies. Secondary core competencies for this area include information, communication, and automation technologies for the intelligent integration of building design, construction, and operations. Areas of expertise within this Strategic Priority Area include energy efficiency, renewable and distributed energy sources, indoor air quality, building controls, alternative refrigerants, economics, the behavioral response of occupants, and codes and standards. The BFRL divisions that are active in this area are the Building Environment Division (BED) and the Office of Applied Economics (OAE). Groups within the BED include HVAC&R (heating, ventilating, air-conditioning, and refrigerating) Equipment Performance, Heat Transfer and Alternative Energy Systems, Mechanical Systems and Controls, Indoor Air Quality and Ventilation, and Computer-Integrated Building Processes. The primary BFRL goal in this strategic area is net zero, high-performance buildings, with programs in healthy and sustainable buildings and cybernetic building systems. TECHNICAL MERIT RELATIVE TO STATE OF THE ART The technical caliber of the programs in the Measurement Science for Building Energy Technologies strategic area is high. The areas of emphasis are very advanced and show both vision and mastery of the technologies involved. Examples include the following: (1) the new 90 K-900 K guarded hot plate apparatus for heat transmission measurements and the development of reference materials; (2) the facilities to sort out building integrated photovoltaic (PV) ratings; (3) the emulation facilities to test fault detection and diagnostics (FDD) tools; (4) the laser/photography/computational fluid dynamics approach to heat exchanger air-side maldistribution measurements; and (5) the lubricant luminescence measurement technique that established an understanding of how seeding nanoparticles into lubricant on the refrigerant side of a chiller can radically improve boiling heat transfer rates. In FY 2007, the Building Environment Division produced numerous publications in professional journals, conference proceedings papers, NIST publications, and external reports. Technical staff members are engaged and influential in the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), the International Institute of Refrigeration, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), and ASTM (formerly known as the American Society for Testing and Materials), including a number of leadership positions at ASHRAE such as vice president, chair of the Standing Standard Project Committee (SSPC) 62.2 ventilation standards, and leadership within the research administration committee. Generally the Building Environment Division projects tie to Measurement Science for Building Energy Technologies. The BFRL is most effective when it contributes measurement science to collaborations involving larger projects. Measurement science includes tools (e.g., algorithms and software) that enable collaborators to access the measurement science and to apply standards based on this information. Software development can become very resource-intensive, and so it is
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 important to keep a balanced focus that favors the development of measurement science over software development. In general, the projects within the BFRL maintain this balance. With few exceptions, staff members are aware of work being done elsewhere. The Heat Pump Simulation Program appears to duplicate some of the capabilities of the widely used Heat Pump Design Model from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, which has been available in Web-based versions for over a decade. Collaboration in cases such as this would strengthen each program and would avoid duplication of effort and resources. Regarding the balancing of anticipatory, longer-term research with the activities that respond to immediate customer needs, the NIST Three-Year Programmatic Plan (FY 2009-2011) states: “Although NIST has not set a formal goal for the funding of high-risk basic research, NIST will invest approximately 12 percent of our R&D budget on high-risk research in FY 2008—a level that has been fairly consistent through the years. Increases requested in the President’s FY 2009 budget would increase the support at NIST for high-risk research to 17.8 percent of NIST’s research budget.”4 Compared to the overall budget allocation at NIST, the research in the building energy technologies area is more applied than basic, and, not surprisingly, no projects were found that were of significantly high risk. It is arguable that there was some risk that the lubricant luminescence measurement approach would not work in the nanofluid project. The development of Net Zero Energy Buildings (NZEB) can clearly be a unifying goal in the Measurement Science for Building Energy Technologies strategic area. The BFRL is doing an excellent job of working on both the near-term and the long-term technologies that are needed to move toward this goal. The importance of the work with FDD, controls, and the commissioning of buildings should not be underestimated. Much can be learned from this work about real-world relevance and issues and the development of standards for measurement that can also impact codes. The laboratory’s work with FDD in residential units is novel and is well considered. Its past work with BACnet showed a very unique capacity to work with industry and in doing so to move industry in a completely new direction, which has led to open standards for building management systems and has increased the overall competitive position of the United States. (BACnet is a data communication protocol for Building Automation and Control Networks.) This same thinking should be applied to FDD and sensor networks and the overall technology foundations of NZEB. Staff from the OAE play a crucial role within the BFRL, and to a lesser extent across other laboratories at NIST, in addressing questions of how measurement and standards information can be assembled and integrated to facilitate industry decisions and/or actions. In particular, this group has drawn from the latest available tools in the decision sciences to assist the BFRL in selecting which projects to pursue, to facilitate industrywide best practices in the selection of particular construction materials and systems (e.g., the busiBEES project, which investigates sustainability and carbon footprint metrics), and to predict the likely human response to the introduction of new 4 National Institute of Standards and Technology, 2008, Three-year Programmatic Plan for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, U.S. Department of Commerce: Fiscal Years 2009-2011, Washington, D.C., February 2, p. 9-41.
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 options and opportunities. In this last area there may be further opportunities to advance the state of understanding by, as an example, using techniques such as “real options” analysis to mirror actual human behavior that seems at odds with traditional choice models based on expected net present value estimates. ADEQUACY OF INFRASTRUCTURE Equipment and facilities supporting this strategic area were excellent and did not appear to be a limiting factor. All research being conducted at the BFRL in support of this strategic area has adequate laboratory equipment and very impressive laboratory facilities. The BFRL has a critical mass of scientific and technical competencies in emerging building technologies and their measurement science needs. However, it is short-staffed in several areas (e.g., in the Mechanical Systems and Controls Group and the Heat Transfer and Alternative Energy Systems Group). The team investigating measurements of hydrogen proton exchange membrane fuel cells to characterize their suitability for backup power generation applications did not appear to be addressing reactive power, perhaps due to a lack of expertise in electrical engineering power on the team. Within the Mechanical Systems and Controls Group, a key researcher with significant expertise in FDD has left, and progress against the project milestones is currently constrained by the temporary staffing shortage. The BFRL is experiencing difficulty in filling open positions. Staffing in energy-related fields is a problem industrywide, so NIST will have to compete with other entities in attracting staff. However, the BFRL needs to be much more innovative in recruiting and pulling especially from other industries (e.g., information technology, computer science) and learning from their processes for recruiting (e.g., more widespread use of recruiters). Recruiting and filling the open positions as well as overall staff development are key problems for the laboratory. The Office of Applied Economics has had great difficulty historically in finding and recruiting highly trained economists who also have the knowledge base and the specific interest in technological detail to contribute effectively to the mission of the BFRL. The paucity of such economists and behavioral scientists has diminished slightly over the past several years. This may have occurred in part because Ph.D. programs in universities in the United States have become slightly less compartmentalized, and academic economic research has begun to employ numerical and experimental methods as well as traditional statistical tools, so its practitioners may have more avenues to interface with natural and physical scientists. The OAE has also begun to recruit at national conferences of the prominent economics societies. This approach of conducting wide searches paid a special dividend this year, resulting in the hiring of two new Ph.D. economists who significantly strengthen the OAE. Continuing this widespread search process annually is crucial for the long-run health of the office: even if the search in a particular year is not successful, the interview and recruitment process disseminates knowledge throughout the economics community about the laboratory and about the important and interesting work that is going on. Available funding, at least prospectively, appears to be adequate for successful research at the BFRL in measurement science for building energy technologies if it
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 materializes. Overall for the BFRL, about two-thirds of the funding is base funding from Congress, which provides a foundation for sustaining programs comparable to most federally sponsored research institutions. The base funding has grown modestly every year since FY 2002, and based on the American Competitiveness Initiative, the America COMPETES Act, and planned administration requests, the prospect of doubling the base funding over a 10-year period appears very positive. Several examples within the Measurement Science for Building Energy Technologies strategic area illustrate the ability to provide a quick response to critical issues, supporting the conclusion that the competencies and the capacity for agility are being maintained. For example, when the best laboratories could do no better than +/−7 percent, +/−12 percent, and +/−16 percent in round-robin measurement of the efficiency of solar conversion to power of crystalline, single-junction thin film, and multi-junction thin film PV modules, NIST was able to mount a program quickly to help resolve the problem. The lack of repeatability and comparability in volatile organic compound outgassing measurements for carpets and other building materials and the consequent BFRL response to this issue provide another example of the capability of the laboratory to respond to issues quickly and competently. The BFRL has a history of being able to respond quickly to issues that have arisen (e.g., the Indoor Air Quality Group’s work on generators with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission). ACHIEVEMENT OF OBJECTIVES AND IMPACT The BFRL has a strong foundation and record of excellent results in the building energy technologies area. Noteworthy examples include the development of BACnet, the application of novel optimization methods for HVAC&R equipment, and the work on the guarded hot plate. Each of these projects and many others embody the best in measurement science being applied to areas of critical interest to the nation. The 23 projects conducted at BFRL under the Measurement Science for Building Energy Technologies strategic area all identified milestones that appeared feasible and clearly define the obstacles and the research challenges. The project descriptions provided a technical approach and resource requirements that are necessary to achieve the project objectives. The investigators for each project were identified, and cross-project connections were made where appropriate. The project investigators in this strategic area regularly publish their results, and, more importantly, many of the projects have industry and university involvement and the project staff is active in outside organizations (ASHRAE, ASTM, and others) and their key technical committees. All of these linkages help disseminate and implement the research results. There is a history within the BFRL of having a consequential, long-term impact—for example, HVAC communications harmonization via BACnet. Some current research areas certainly have the potential to have similar or greater impact in the future. For example, now that the value of retrocommissioning is gaining acceptance there is also growing awareness that benefits decay, and the process needs to be redone periodically. NIST has recognized that FDD implemented with sufficient embedded intelligence could capture the financial benefits and sustain them through continuous commissioning, without periodic manual “re-dos,” and has initiated work in this important area. The
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 laboratory is extremely well positioned to have a consequential, long-term impact on the advancement of NZEB; however, the leadership will have to plan and act strategically to develop the measurement science necessary to enable technology developments in this area. The laboratory should be planning for (and is planning with the Department of Energy) a large effort to define the path to NZEB and to insert the technology development effort resulting from the investments in building energy technology into this larger plan. CONCLUSIONS The economic opportunities and the environmental threats in the strategic area of Measurement Science for Building Energy Technologies justify considerably higher investment levels on energy-related work. BACnet is just one example of technology in a field where increased funding would yield significant energy benefits to the nation. By developing a globally recognized standard for building management systems, the team within the BFRL has already achieved results that will allow significant energy savings that enable other benefits from increased integration (a systems issue) across building subsystems. Leveraging this past success and accelerating it would enable the rapid advancement of FDD, automated commissioning, and the creation of standardized building components (e.g., variable frequency drives). In the energy-efficiency and environmentally acceptable areas of investments, it is also important to understand why and how potential developers and users respond to information, prices, and incentives, and to formulate procedures and implementation systems that have a high probability of success. There is a concern that impending retirements of key staff, coupled with the significant recruiting challenges discussed above, will severely undermine the primary strength of the BFRL, which is its people. NIST should examine ways in which the Human Resources organization can help the BFRL recruit needed talent and develop effective succession plans. The importance of maintaining a cadre of appropriate expertise at the BFRL cannot be overemphasized. The focus on staffing is necessary to maintain the high quality of the BFRL staff and also to permit highly valuable investigators to focus on research rather than on recruitment activities. Roadmaps for building energy technologies measurement sciences and standards should be developed and implemented, and a process for regularly updating them should be defined and tracked. The roadmaps should anticipate what will be needed in U.S. buildings over the next 10 to 20 years. Examples of areas potentially requiring measurement science and the development of corresponding standards include the following: advanced energy-efficiency technologies of all varieties; smart grid integration with intelligent buildings; cooling, heating, and power systems of all varieties and size ranges; building-integrated photovoltaic cells; small-building-scale wind turbines; fuel cells; green building materials; and residential automation systems are among a range of technologies that the BFRL needs to be aware of and in selected cases needs to nurture. In all cases, awareness of the impact on codes and standards for energy efficiency should be maintained. A clear strategic link should be made between several existing research areas (e.g., FDD, commissioning, controls, life cycle assessment, and alternative energy systems) and the NZEB goals. A strategy should be developed to have a measurable
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An Assessment of the National Institute of Standards and Technology Building and Fire Research Laboratory: Fiscal Year 2008 impact in this area (including development of specific interim and long-term [2020 or 2030] goals, scenario development, and the establishment of strategic partnering with universities and national laboratories in the United States and key partner countries, specifically including India and China). Economics considerations should continue to be integrated within the technical work, because economic issues are often the barriers to technical innovation. For example, in scenarios for carbon footprint estimations, the BFRL is doing an excellent job of estimating the impacts of given energy-use reductions, but a strong link has not been made to the kinds of reductions that are ultimately possible, nor have the sometimes slow responses by the highly fragmented building industry and its customers been factored in to informational and implementation strategies. The laboratory should accelerate field tests and demonstrations of all technologies (especially the work on FDD tools and sensor networks) even if they have to come at the expense of developing new tools. There is considerable benefit to the experience that will be obtained in field trials for the maturation and the transition of technology to industry. Field trial results can also be used to drive future technology investments, and the lack of the use of demonstrations is currently the barrier to a number of technologies being successfully transitioned to industry. The use of such processes as Stage-Gate for project management would bring out more clearly the role and the timing and the investments needed for effective field trial work. The field work will serve current stakeholder needs, help further develop BFRL’s understanding of stakeholder needs, and help move BFRL technologies into the market more quickly. Technology evolution scenarios (i.e., how current technologies will grow into advanced new technologies) need attention, and the focus on developing investable roadmaps will assist in such scenario planning. Attempts to secure more direct industry funding to maximize the relevance of current work (e.g., heat exchanger optimization, nanoparticles for refrigerants, FDD) should be a focus of the laboratory.