Buildings consume 40% of US energy and improvements in building efficiency will provide “significant benefits” in reduced energy use, lower utility bills and decreased carbon emissions, explains the funding opportunity released by the Departments of Energy, Commerce, Labor and Education, as well as the Small Business Administration and National Science Foundation.

The agencies will leverage funding and resources to promote regional growth through an Energy Regional Innovation Cluster (E-RIC) that is centred around an Energy Innovation Hub with a focus on new technologies which improve the design of energy efficiency in building systems.

This Energy Innovation Hub, one of three proposed by the US Administration and funded by Congress in the FY10 budget, will bring together a multidisciplinary team of researchers to conduct research and work to solve technology challenges. The E-RIC will disseminate new technologies into the local marketplace and share best energy efficiency practices with the public and private sectors.

"This unique partnership will not only advance the development of new, energy efficient technologies, it will help local governments, businesses, and homeowners save money on their utility bills by putting the technology to work," says Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Energy efficient buildings represent one of our best and most immediate opportunities to create jobs, save money and cut carbon pollution."

The Department of Energy will provide US$22m in the first year and US$100m over the next four years, with funding from the other participants for specific components of work. The National Science Foundation will provide supplement funding for existing programmes which train students in sustainable energy.

The joint funding opportunity is the first pilot project of the Interagency Regional Innovation Clusters Taskforce, which is charged with developing a replicable and sustainable model for coordinated federal and regional efforts that foster and use regional innovation clusters to develop and demonstrate sustainable and efficient models for attaining national strategic objectives, the announcement explains.

“Due to the critical roles that basic and applied energy research play in attaining two key national strategic objectives (attaining US energy security and reducing the carbon footprint) the Taskforce selected Energy Efficient Building Systems Design as the topical focus for its first pilot project.”

The Small Business Administration wants to evaluate options to supplement energy generated from conventional fossil fuels with green power from solar, wind and other renewable energy sources, and an oversight board to review progress will be managed by DoE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy.

Applicants must include a detailed Sustainability / Carbon Reduction Plan that demonstrates how they will set and achieve targets related to goals such as use of renewable energy, net reductions in regional energy usage, elimination of waste streams, and incorporation of emerging energy efficiency standards and sustainable business practices.

“The energy consumption of buildings involves a wide range of different technologies: space conditioning systems deliver heating, cooling and air circulation/cleansing; lighting systems deliver illumination; water heating and sanitation systems deliver and dispose of water; electrical and gas systems deliver power and fuel; elevators and escalators provide mobility; integrated renewable systems generate power; and envelope systems (windows, walls, roofing) seal the conditioned environment from the outside.”

In most buildings, these diverse systems operate largely independently and enhancing integration “can lead to important efficiency gains,” the documents note.