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EEB Hub: rebranded Navy Yard energy efficiency research initiative aims to reduce commercial energy use 20% by 2020

The newly rebranded, federally-funded, Navy Yard-based Energy Efficient Buildings Hub recently did an experiment.

Its staff had an energy audit done on Building 101 in the Navy Yard – the EEB Hub headquarters – from three different companies. The result? Three different results regarding the building’s energy use.

“We’re uncovering that the rules of thumb in the [energy efficient] industry vary widely and strategies also vary widely, and that makes it very confusing to a building owner,” EEB Hub Deputy Director Laurie Actman said. “We’re trying to come up with some rules of thumb for the owners so they can be more informed consumers of potential technology and services.”

The five-year, $129 million research initiative focuses on helping buildings in the Greater Philadelphia region become more energy efficient. The effort, which includes funding research and hosting educational events for stakeholders, is 20 months old and looking at its early impact.

An EEB Hub event panel discusses clean tech investment last week.

“We are a [U.S. Department of Energy] funded project that the region won after a national competition and we’re focused on transforming the environment for building retrofits in the greater Philadelphia region,” Actman said. EEB Hub is promoting and helping invest in energy efficient technology for medium-sized, commercial buildings, she added.

By 2020, EEB Hub hopes to reduce energy use by 20 percent in the U.S. commercial buildings sector, largely through research and best-practices that it will highlight. The project started as an Energy-Regional Innovation Cluster on Feb. 1, 2011.

“We’re starting to pick up momentum, engaging with the market and kind of creating strategies based on integrated technology that we can demonstrate to building owners. So we’re more on the getting-started-side than the getting-close-to-the-goal side,” Actman said. “It’s a very ambitious goal, but we think by having a comprehensive approach we have a chance of getting there.”

When EEB Hub was first formed, it was called the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster. Actman explained that the name GPIC grew out of the application to the DOE.

“While we really like [the] regional aspect and innovation in our name, our true focus is energy efficient buildings,” she said. “We wanted to make sure that was conveyed in our name.”

In addition, Actman said the organization wanted to include “hub” as part of its name because its made up of 27 different partners, including universities, companies and nonprofit and economic development organizations. Partners include Drexel University, University of Pennsylvania and Penn State, the leader of EEB Hub’s efforts.

Currently EEB Hub is designing and retrofitting the Navy Yard’s Building 661, which will be the organization’s final home.

“While we are here [in Building 101], we actually have fitted this suite with about 500 different pieces of instrumentations, measuring air quality, measuring plugloads, the indoor environmental quality, lighting and temperature,” Alon Abramson, a project manager who works with media and production at EEB Hub, said. “[We’re] getting a really good understanding of how this building works to understand energy.”

In September, EEB Hub announced its partnership with the University City Science Center. The hub will serve as the first satellite location for Quorum, part of Science Center program aiming to providing an innovation pipeline that will focus there on clean tech opportunities and the Navy Yard’s role as an innovation hub.

To kickoff the relationship, the EEB Hub hosted an Angel Education event Wednesday about clean tech efficiency on the third floor of Building 101. Panel members for the event included Scott Yetter from Green Power Technologies,Todd Rossi from Field Diagnostics, John Hammerschmidt from Momentum Dynamics, Ravikant Barot from OxiCool and moderator Mark deGrandpre from Ben Franklin Technology Partners.

Tucker Twitmyer from EnerTech Capital spoke to investors and entrepreneurs about his own firm’s investments in energy efficient companies.

William Sisson, the director of sustainability at the United Technologies Research Center, spoke about how 70 percent of the electricity produced in the country goes into buildings and 91 percent of energy produced is inefficient, something EEB Hub research is working to prevent.

Although the EEB Hub project is less than halfway through its planned five-year effort, Actman said that the members have learned a lot of lessons early on.

“Working directly with the market to understand the challenges of business owners has been really important,” she said.

The organization also realized during its first year that energy efficiency technology and retrofitting is a complex initiative that involves many participants, which can be a long process to get all decision makers involved in an energy efficient task or decision aligned around the issue.

Kyle Venne is currently working at EEB Hub through the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

“One unique opportunity about the Hub is that it is fairly broad in scope,” Venne said.

The collaboration with EEB Hub has allowed NREL to gain access to information it normally would not have as a research-based laboratory, he said. “It’s been an opportunity for my team to get exposure for the things we work on and get feedback.”

In the future, EEB Hub hopes to make retrofitting of buildings more common. Recently, Philadelphia City Councilpassed an ordinance that requires buildings more than 50,000 square feet to disclose energy use. Actman said she saw this as an opportunity to educate owners and to create competition between businesses to see who can have the most energy efficient building in the city.

“I think [EEB Hub] is a huge opportunity to leverage off of Mayor [Michael] Nutter’s sustainable vision for Philadelphia and take it to the broader region,” Actman said. “I think that will create an environment of innovation around energy efficient and retrofit and create a culture where that’s the norm rather than the exception.”

This report was done in partnership with Temple University’s Philadelphia Neighborhoods program, the capstone class for the Temple’s Department of Journalism.

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Kristen Fitch

Kristen Fitch

Senior Director, Marketing