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Green: The Flexlab at LBNL

The Worlds Most Advanced Building Efficiency Test Bed

Judhajit Chakraborty. Assoc. AIA, LEED® AP WSP Built Ecology

Judhajit Chakraborty. Assoc. AIA, LEED® AP WSP Built Ecology

As I was thinking about what to write for this month’s article, I realized that I’ve never written about the Flexlab at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory up at the Berkeley hills which I toured a few months back as part of the International Building Performance and Simulation Association (IBPSA)- United States’ San Francisco Chapter’s event. Believe me, it is by far the coolest building lab I have ever seen. Not surprisingly, it is the world’s most advanced bed for testing building efficiency. I am sure many of the readers would be interested to know that such a facility exists at a stone’s throw distance and that also they can request to tour the facility (Ask me for the right contact).

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So what is Flexlab?

This Department of Energy (DOE-funded) lab which started operating last year is the most flexible, comprehensive and advanced building simulator in the world. It lets stakeholders test energy efficient building systems either as a standalone system or an integrated system under real-world conditions. The test beds can test a whole range of systems including different HVAC systems (VAV, Chilled Beams, Radiant systems etc), lighting systems (with a plethora of control options), building envelope (glazing and shading systems), control systems, plug loads; in any combinations. Users can test different scenarios and alter-natives, perform Return on Investment (ROI) and life cycle cost analysis which produces data thereby ensuring the efficiency of the project much before the construction or retrofitting even begins. Did I for-get to mention that you can simulate different orientations as well? Yes, the test beds are motorized and can rotate to optimize orientation angles.
When I visited the Flexlab, one of the test beds was an office, which looked like any other corporate office with desks and chairs arranged across a well-lit floor. But then instead of humans, there are slender poles of different heights that constantly monitor temperature and light levels. There are some metal tubes stationed near the workstations and they emit heat, the same amount as a human body. It was really an amazing set up to understand in real time how your building will perform before you spend millions on it.

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What does the Flexlab facility offer?
As mentioned before, the Flexlab allows stakeholders to evaluate their project’s performance in terms of energy efficiency and return on investment by: optimizing integrated systems; ensuring occupant comfort and user friendliness; analyzing cost benefits; training the building operators and facility managers; and build confidence among the building industry in new building technologies.

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Who is using it?
Till a month ago, Webcor and Genentech was using the test bed to inform Genetech’s new 250.000 sq. ft. office in South San Francisco. They were using the same ventilation system, glazing and interior modules for all the tests as it was in the design. Together, the Flexlab facility helped to deliver this state-of- the-art building that will set a new bar for energy efficiency and thermal comfort. ■

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