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Originally published on
By John Matson

The White House on May 17 announced a slate of new programs aimed at integrating US buildings into the clean energy economy. The initiatives include electrification programs for existing homes, workforce training for next-generation jobs in the buildings sector, and efforts to increase the adoption of efficient electric heat pumps and EV fast chargers.

Alongside the plans for job training and building electrification, the announcement also highlighted the Biden administration’s goals for grid-interactive efficient buildings — a less well-known approach that has significant potential to reduce carbon emissions.

In this blog post, we’ll explore what grid-interactive efficient buildings are and why they feature so prominently in plans for a clean energy future.

What Are Grid-Interactive Efficient Buildings?

A grid-interactive efficient building (GEB) continuously optimizes energy use by combining efficiency measures such as LED lighting, efficient heat pumps, and high-performance windows with smart technologies such as solar, battery storage, and integrated building controls. Rather than simply consuming energy from the grid based on the building’s baseline energy use and occupant demands, a GEB interacts with the grid to continuously manage its demand in response to key signals from the electric utility.

To save money, reduce strain on the grid, or limit carbon emissions from electricity generation, a GEB might shed load (e.g., automatically dimming LED lights throughout the building) or shift its load from one time to another (e.g., drawing from on-site batteries rather than the grid) in a practice known as demand flexibility, or load flexibility.

What Is Demand Flexibility?

Demand flexibility is a building’s ability to shed or time-shift its energy demand in response to near-real-time signals about conditions on the grid. Demand flexibility signals can include the current price of electricity, the availability of renewable energy sources such as solar and wind, and the carbon intensity of the current energy mix. For instance, a GEB might employ demand flexibility to shift its peak electricity demand to a time of day when solar energy is abundant and might otherwise be curtailed.

Demand flexibility offers significant promise for reducing the carbon emissions from building operations, especially as the grid integrates more distributed energy resources. But the benefits can extend beyond cost and carbon savings. As detailed in a new RMI insight brief, buildings that flex their demand can shift energy away from peak usage times, when utilities often rely on fossil-burning “peaker” plants to help meet surging demand. Demand flexibility can therefore reduce the need for these peaker plants, eliminating not only their carbon emissions but also their significant contributions to air pollution.

What Are the Potential Benefits of GEBs?

The potential energy, emissions, and cost savings from combining energy efficiency and demand flexibility in GEBs are substantial. Buildings account for more than 70 percent of US electricity consumption and at least one-third of US emissions, according to the US Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office (BTO). A new GEB roadmap from the BTO estimates that smarter, more efficient buildings can eliminate 80 million tons of CO2 emissions annually by 2030, reducing the emissions of the entire US power sector by 6 percent. The emissions savings from GEBs would be equivalent to retiring more than 50 midsize coal plants or taking 17 million cars off the road.

Widespread adoption of GEB technologies would reduce peak loads on the grid, which would in turn reduce the needed capacity of the grid to meet those demands. The cost savings of GEBs would therefore extend beyond the owners and tenants of the GEBs themselves. By 2040, the BTO calculates, GEBs could save the US power system more than $100 billion in cumulative electricity generation and transmission costs.

What Are the New US Goals for GEBs?

In the GEB roadmap, released May 17 in conjunction with the White House announcement, the US Department of Energy laid out a goal of tripling the energy efficiency and demand flexibility of buildings by 2030, relative to 2020 levels. To reach that goal, the roadmap articulates 14 recommendations, from enhancing R&D for smart-building technologies to policy options for encouraging integration of GEB practices.

Among the roadmap’s recommendations is that government agencies should “lead by example” — deploying GEB measures in government-owned buildings to demonstrate the benefits and provide valuable insights and best practices for more widespread deployment. Already, the vast majority of US states have adopted requirements for energy usage or efficiency in government buildings, and demand flexibility could become a valuable tool for meeting those requirements.

At the federal level, the savings from GEBs would be significant. The US General Services Administration (GSA) is the nation’s largest landlord, with nearly 10,000 buildings and more than 375 million square feet of real estate under its control. In a 2019 cost-benefit analysis, RMI found that the GSA could save $50 million annually (about 20 percent of its energy expenditures) by implementing GEB measures across its portfolio of buildings. In all six locations that RMI studied in the GSA analysis, the payback period for GEB improvements was less than four years (and in some cases less than a year), demonstrating the soundness of the investment for the government and for taxpayers.

Next Steps at the Federal Level

A new report from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) provides a blueprint for the GSA to select buildings that are ideal candidates for cost-effective GEB projects. The report also lays out strategies and best practices for integrating GEB measures into the various phases of contract development for energy-focused building retrofits.

The NREL report notes that the sheer number of buildings managed by the GSA would allow the agency to screen its real estate portfolio for the highest-value GEB candidates before applying the early lessons learned in implementing GEB measures in performance contracts. NREL also notes that the buildings with the greatest economic potential for grid-interactive efficiency tend to share features such as time-of-use energy rates, high demand charges for a building’s peak energy usage, or utility or state programs that incentivize utility customers to be responsive in their energy demand.

One of the challenges identified by the new reports from BTO and NREL is the maturity and availability of some technologies that would optimize GEB implementation. Systems for coordinated, whole-building automation in response to signals from the grid are among the emerging technologies that will be needed to maximize GEBs’ benefits. The GSA’s Proving Ground program is evaluating some of these building control systems in demonstration projects, and the learnings from those evaluations should help to further shape best practices for implementing GEB projects nationwide.

The Path to 2030 and Beyond

By integrating energy efficiency, distributed energy generation technologies, and demand flexibility into its buildings, the GSA can help to advance the state of the art in grid-interactive efficient buildings. The proof points from GEB projects in the federal government’s building portfolio will not only help advance the DOE goal of tripling demand flexibility and efficiency measures by 2030. They should also make for a cleaner, more resilient grid powering smarter, more efficient buildings—all while saving taxpayers money.

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Quick Charge Podcast: October 3, 2023




Quick Charge Podcast: October 3, 2023

Listen to a recap of the top stories of the day from Electrek. Quick Charge is available now on Apple PodcastsSpotifyTuneIn and our RSS feed for Overcast and other podcast players.

New episodes of Quick Charge are recorded Monday through Thursday and again on Saturday. Subscribe to our podcast in Apple Podcast or your favorite podcast player to guarantee new episodes are delivered as soon as they’re available.

Stories we discuss in this episode (with links):

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Tesla expands Cybertruck testing all the way to Mexico, adds new accessories




Tesla expands Cybertruck testing all the way to Mexico, adds new accessories

Tesla has expanded Cybertruck testing all the way to Mexico – in Baja California, at the starting point of a rally in which Elon Musk hinted the Cybertruck would perform well. The automaker also seems to be testing new accessories.

We expect Tesla to announce the Cybertruck launch event very soon, but in the meantime, the automaker seems to be continuing to test its electric pickup truck.

Prototypes have primarily been spotted in California and Texas throughout the year, but recently, the test program seems to have expanded.

A Cybertruck was spotted in Ohio this weekend, and it appears the same truck made it all the way to Florida. That’s the furthest east we have seen one of these trucks go.

Now, a couple of Cybertrucks have even been spotted in Mexico.

Erik Johnson posted on Facebook two pictures of two Cybertrucks charging at a resort in Ensenada, Mexico.

That’s actually the starting point of the Baja 1000 rally – one of the toughest off-road rallies in the world and an event that CEO Elon Musk referenced when talking about testing the Cybertruck’s suspension.

In 2020, the CEO hinted that Tesla might test the truck in Baja:

We’re working on increasing dynamic air suspension travel for better off-roading. Needs to kick butt in Baja.

The rally is still a few months away, but Tesla could be testing the water on the local terrain.

The same truck with the graffiti decal also appears to feature an accessory bar on top and what could be a Starlink antenna – better seen in this picture of the same truck.

Starlink, a satellite-based internet service made by Elon Musk’s SpaceX, has a plan option for road vehicles, and it could be a particularly good match for Cybertruck owners who will want to take the electric vehicle off-grid.

What do you think? Let us know in the comment section below.

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Volkswagen taps Tesla, Rivian vet to fix EV software issues




Volkswagen taps Tesla, Rivian vet to fix EV software issues

Delays at Volkswagen’s Cariad software unit have already caused Porsche and Audi electric model launches to be pushed back. To turn things around, Volkswagen is hiring a former Tesla, Rivian, and Google executive to lead a new software design hub for future EVs.

VW’s Cariad division has been a problem child for several years now. After draining money and failing to meet its targets, Cariad’s disappointment was reportedly a reason behind former VW Group CEO Herbert Diess’s departure. Diess established Cariad in 2020 to advance Volkswagen’s EV software to help it compete against Tesla.

Cariad is developing a uniform software and tech platform for the group’s next-gen EVs, but poor execution has led to significant delays and glitchy rollouts. The issues have delayed launches for the Porsche electric Macan and the new Audi Q6 e-tron.

Oliver Blume, who took the reigns from Diess as VW’s CEO last September, has faced the same issues. The leader is making it a priority to turn things around.

Blume appointed Peter Bosch, former Bentley production chief, as CEO in May. Now, the unit is adding some veteran talent from industry leaders Tesla and Rivian.

Porsche Macan EV winter testing (Source: Porsche)

Volkswagen hires Tesla exec to boost EV software unit

Volkswagen has hired Sanjay Lal, a former Tesla and Rivian exec, to help finally advance the automaker’s next-gen software platform.

According to Bloomberg, Lal will join VW next month from Rivian, where he worked as vice president of software platform for two years. Lal joined Rivian from Google, where he was Director of Engineering for Android Automotive. From July 2017 to June 2019, Lal was director of engineering at Tesla.

VW Cariad booth at CES 2023 (Source: Cariad)

Lal will lead a software design hub at Cariad. The hubs projects will be first applied to two EVs, an Audi and VW model. Eventually, the unit’s output will be used for scaling the software platform across the Volkswagen Group of brands.

(Source: Volkswagen)

The hiring comes after Volkswagen cut production at two German plants due to slowing demand. According to Automobilwoche, Volkswagen’s Zwickau plant will shut down one of two ID.3 production lines. VW revealed a $1.3 billion investment in 2018 to transform the plant to build EVs.

Electrek’s Take

Software is becoming the new vehicle design. Buyers are looking for the latest tech and features rather than worrying about the brand name.

Volkswagen is quickly realizing this. After falling behind BYD in passenger car sales in its largest market, China, for the first time, you can sense the urgency.

The automaker invested $700 million into Chinese EV maker XPeng in July for a 5% stake to develop new electric models. Audi also established a long-term partnership with Chinese state-owned SAIC Motor to accelerate EV development in the region.

EV makers like Tesla, NIO, BYD, and others are becoming the go-to for new features and tech rather than Audi or Porsche vehicles.

Tesla and others continue improving their vehicles through software updates with new features that make the car smarter, safer, and more efficient. For example, Tesla rolled out a new software update Tuesday that automatically activates and speeds up its hazard lights following a crash.

Volkswagen will have a long way to go in catching up, but hiring some veteran firepower with direct industry knowledge could help speed up the process.

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