DOE Invests in ‘Connected Communities’


The U.S. Department of Energy announced a $61 million project last week to launch new technology for developing “Connected Communities.” According to the press release, 7,000 homes and businesses will become “state-of-the-art, energy-efficient buildings” that can interact with electrical grids to optimize energy consumption, decreasing their carbon emissions and cut energy costs.

“From our homes to workplaces, this groundbreaking, grid-connected building technology will help reduce our impact while cutting energy bills, maximizing convenience and propelling our efforts to reach a carbon-neutral, clean energy economy by 2050,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm.

“These projects will help universalize technology that can maximize the efficiency and sustainability of America’s nearly 130 million buildings and make significant headway in the fight against climate change.”  

The project comes from the Biden Administration’s goal to reach a net-zero carbon economy, hoping to provide a model for reducing the building sector’s contribution to the climate crisis.

According to the DOE, grid-interactive efficient buildings (GEBs) use smart controls, sensors and analytics to communicate with the electrical grid to reduce the amount of energy they require during periods of peak demand. Building optimization reportedly allows comfort of the building occupants, lowers utility bills and reduces grid system costs.

The DOE estimates that by 2030, GEBs could save up to $18 billion per year in power system costs and cut 80 million tons of carbon emissions each year—equivalent to more than 50 medium-sized coal plants or 17 million cars. The first Connected Communities, located in Alabama and Georgia, have reportedly used 42-44% less energy than today’s average home.

The DOE has selected 10 teams to manage these projects in utilities, local governments, homebuilders and end-users:

  • Electric Power Research Institute, Inc. (New York City, Seattle, San Diego) will transform multi-family buildings in affordable housing developments into GEBs that will demonstrate different ways to decarbonize buildings, make them more resilient and reduce utility bills. (Award amount: $5.27 million);
  • IBACOS, Inc. (North Carolina) will deploy a coordinated control program to optimize the energy use of a comprehensive mix of distributed energy resources in 1,000 new and existing homes, including single-family and multifamily homes and both owner-occupied and rental properties. (Award amount: $6.65 million);
  • Open Market ESCO Limited Liability Company (Massachusetts) will bring the benefits of efficiency, demand flexibility, renewable generation and energy storage with more affordable renovations in up to 20 low-to-moderate-income apartment communities. (Award amount: $6.65 million);
  • PacifiCorp (Utah) will establish a program to manage solar photovoltaic, batteries and electric vehicle charging in a diverse community of all-electric buildings and a mass transit transportation center, equipped with the latest market-leading efficient technologies to optimize their collective energy use and provide grid services at scale. (Award amount: $6.42 million);
  • Portland General Electric (Oregon) will renovate over 500 buildings in North Portland’s historically underserved neighborhoods to reduce their energy burden with numerous energy efficiency measures and connected devices that provide the grid with a range on energy services. (Award amount: $6.65 million);
  • Post Road Foundation (Maine, New Hampshire) will investigate the capacity of a novel Transactive Energy Service System to harmonize communications and optimize energy use among the distributed energy resources, local energy markets and buildings of three rural communities. (Award amount: $6.65 million);
  • Slipstream Group Inc. (Wisconsin) will convert approximately 15 facilities in Madison, Wisconsin into GEBs that connect with nearby electric vehicle charging stations to establish a scalable business model for utilities to install demand flexibility and energy efficiency upgrades across multiple building sizes in public and private sectors. (Award amount: $5.18 million);
  • Spokane Edo LLC (Washington) will unlock demand flexibility up to 2.25 megawatt using flexible loads in residential and commercial buildings augmented by distributed energy resources within Spokane, Washington’s Opportunity Zones of vulnerable populations. (Award amount: $6.65 million);
  • SunPower Corporation (California) will build tomorrow’s homes today in two communities of all-electric homes in Menifee, California that meet DOE’s zero-energy-ready home qualifications and feature solar energy, home energy management systems and community-scale battery storage. (Award amount: $6.65 million); and
  • The Ohio State University (Ohio) will investigate the capacity of Ohio State’s existing on-campus connected community to provide essential but overlooked ancillary grid services from a diverse range of grid-interactive technologies in a cyber- and data-secure environment. (Award amount: $4.2 million) 

The project is led by DOE’s Building Technologies Office in collaboration with the Solar Energy Technologies Office, the Vehicle Technologies Office, the Office of Electricity and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

“Lowering energy bills through energy efficiency and energy efficient systems is the best way to lower our carbon emissions and lower costs for businesses, renters and homeowners," said U.S. Representative Mike Doyle (PA-18).

"Developing new technologies to create connected communities that more efficiently move energy around is the type of innovation needed to build an affordable and cleaner energy system for the future, and I am pleased to see an organization from Pittsburgh leading a project at the forefront of this innovation.”

Recent Energy Investments

Last year, the DOE announced an $80 million 2020 funding opportunity for its Building Energy Efficiency Frontiers and Innovation Technologies (BENEFIT) program.

The funding aims to support projects that enhance energy demand flexibility across buildings and the electric power grid.

According to the DOE, residential and commercial buildings lead in the nation’s total energy demand, amounting to nearly 40% as compared to the industrial (32%) and transportation (28%) sectors. The Department adds that in some regions, buildings account for roughly 74% or more of all electricity use in America.

Through the 2020 BENEFIT FOA, the DOE intends to broaden its investments in cutting-edge, energy-saving building technologies, systems and practices that will positively impact various segments of the buildings industry.

The Biden-Harris Administration announced their climate change plans in November 2020 as they transitioned into office. The $1.7 trillion plan outlined overhauls to infrastructure, the auto industry, transit, the power sector, buildings, housing, innovation, agriculture and conservation and environmental justice.

“I know that climate change is the challenge that’s going to define our American future—and I know meeting this challenge will be a once-in-a-century opportunity to jolt new life into our economy, strengthen our global leadership, and protect our planet for future generations,” said Biden in a statement at the time.

This plan outlined investments in the power sector, with a strategy to move ambitiously to generate clean, American-made electricity to achieve a carbon pollution-free power sector by 2035. The Biden Administration says that this will enable us to meet the existential threat of climate change while creating millions of jobs with a choice to join a union.


Tagged categories: Energy efficiency; Environmental Controls; Funding; Good Technical Practice; Government; NA; North America; Program/Project Management; U.S. Department of Energy

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