NIST logo

Remarks at Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility Ribbon-Cutting Ceremony

NIST Headquarters, Gaithersburg, MD
September 12, 2012
Dr. Patrick Gallagher, Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director

Thank you, Shyam, and congratulations to you and your team for this remarkable achievement. This is really very special.

I'm delighted to be here, and my goal today is to tell you a little bit about what made this happen and why we're here today. And I hope all of you took the opportunity, if you had the chance, to see our facility. I know I've enjoyed the visits here, and I keep coming up with a longer and longer to-do list of things I want to do in my own home after visiting this facility.

It's not too often at NIST that we design and build an experiment where the most common reaction people have after seeing it is "I would like to live here." But that's, in fact, what's happened here, and I want to congratulate the many of you in the audience here who played such key roles in making this happen—whether it was providing the support to, for the funding, whether it was in the design and construction, or whether it's in the research activities  here—this is really remarkable.

I want to thank our special guests: Kathleen Hogan, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency at the Department of Energy; and Rick Fedrizzi, who is the president, CEO, and founding chairman of the U.S Green Building Council. We're delighted you both could come here for the celebration of this achievement.

We have a Who's Who list of VIPs here. I really want to recognize all of them, but it's such a long list you would hear nothing else. But we have folks here from the U.S. Senate: Ken Reicherd from Senator Ben Cardin's office, we have Courtney Samuels from Senator Barbara Mikulski's office. We have folks here, Selena from Donna Edwards' office, from Chris Van Hollen's office, and a group of key staffers who we work with all the time on the House Science, Space, and Technology Subcommittee on Technology and Innovation. They were all indispensable to making this happen.

In addition, we have Jennie Forehand from the State of Maryland, from the Senate. And, of course, we have our good friends here from the Montgomery County Council--Nancy Floreen, thank you for joining us--and also from Phil Andrews' office and also from the City of Gaithersburg.

And this federal and local partnership that you see here, I think, draws its interest and support from the nature of this facility.

We're here to celebrate this because buildings and energy are an important nexus. Buildings account for 73 percent—73 percent—of all the electricity consumed in the United States and 40 percent of all the energy that's used. They are one of the heaviest consumers of natural resources and they account for a large percentage of the greenhouse gas emissions for the United States. In this country alone, buildings produce nearly 40 percent of all CO2 emissions.

And this trend is only going to increase as the world's population rises and becomes more urban. Our reliance on nonrenewable energy sources exposes this country, in fact, this planet, to risks and threatens our health and environment. This is not a sustainable path, and it must change. It can change. The federal government is committed to facilitating that change and making it happen.

In 2009, at the beginning of his administration, President Obama issued an executive order that sets goals for federal agencies to make improvements in their own infrastructure for environment, energy, and economic performance. Also, as many of you know, in 2009, Congress passed, and the President signed, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. That dual-purpose bill had two goals. One, of course, was to save and create jobs, to make immediate investments for the country. The other one was to build the infrastructure for a future economy, for one of growth. And in that context, green energy was one of the key priorities of that bill. This facility supported both of those goals directly.

Thanks to that act, we were able to turn the notion of a laboratory that could improve energy efficient technologies into a reality. This facility that you see behind me wears two hats. It is a demonstration project of commercial technology in a beautiful facility, and it's also a working laboratory.

Working with DOE's Building America Program, NIST was able to partner with architectural firm Building Science Corporation, who worked hand in hand with our energy research staff to design this facility.

Many of you may be wondering: if this was a laboratory facility, why did we go the trouble of making it so attractive? That was intentional. We wanted to demonstrate that efficiency does not need to be at odds with use and enjoyment. We think that demonstrating that it's possible to have the home design you want, with the energy efficiency that we all need, will help speed the adoption of energy-efficient technologies and net-zero homes across the country

And the demand is growing. Developers in California, Arizona, Florida, Nevada, and Washington are building entire communities based on net-zero energy homes. Buyers are demonstrating that they believe it's worth an extra initial investment to reduce and stabilize their utility bills and to minimize their environmental impact. And as the demand for these technologies continues to grow, costs will come down, and it will become more accessible to more and more folks.

So growing demand and expanding activity, new construction, also means a growing need for the types of measurements and standards that NIST does to support these emerging technologies.

This is also a working laboratory. After a year-long experiment to demonstrate that this facility is net-zero, NIST scientists will begin to develop methods for tests and metrics for emerging energy using these technologies. We will measure how retrofitting or installing new energy technologies can reduce building energy consumption by an average of 30 to 50 percent, according to that subcommittee report that Shyam mentioned earlier.

And now is the time to invest in these technologies. And indeed, it's also time to develop the measurement science that will support them.

We talk about NIST as being industry's national laboratory. Our role here is to develop the measurement science and to support the standards development that makes integrating these type of technologies and putting them to meaningful use happen.

In addition to the Net-Zero Energy Residential Test Facility behind me, NIST has many other programs working to reduce our reliance on nonrenewable energy resources, to reduce harmful emissions, pollution, and to improve energy efficiency.

A couple of examples: our Manufacturing Extension Partnership program, which works in all 50 states, is working closely with DOE's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory on a program to train building engineers and operators in "re-tuning." This is the systematic process of identifying operational problems in working buildings. And this will help buildings and building operators across the United States to increase energy efficiency in commercial and industrial building infrastructure.

Depending on which way you came onto our campus today, you may have noticed one of our  more visible projects, and that's the photovoltaic arrays that have been installed around the campus that are converting sunlight directly into electricity, used right here on our campus. And this being NIST, of course, they're also a dual-purpose facility, so at the same time we are collecting electricity, we are collecting data. We're measuring the performance of those arrays, and we hope this data will inform the development of new technologies, new tests, and new standards.

Researchers in our Engineering Laboratory and our Physical Measurement Laboratory are developing better ways to test photovoltaic cells by mimicking solar conditions so that industry and the market have a reliable way of understanding the performance of these new technologies.

We have long-standing work with DOE and EPA on the measurements that support product labeling for energy efficiency in appliances and other things that we all use. We also have programs to evaluate new advanced high-efficiency lighting.

Our researchers are working to improve the thermal testing of advanced insulation material, and testing and rating procedures for appliances, electric motors, commercial water heaters, and HVAC systems. All of these programs make important measurement data available to the market through a variety of ways, including through our Standard Reference Data website.

Once we begin our net-zero experiment, we're going to be collecting data on the performance of this house, and we're working to make sure that the data we collect are as available as widely as possible to the research community so that other researchers can follow our progress and build upon it.

We want you to think about how you might collaborate with us next year when this facility becomes a working test bed. We hope to plug and play different technologies, recreate different environments by reconfiguring combinations of technologies, and we welcome the collaboration and interaction with the active building community to make that happen.

We have a long tradition of working collaboratively with industry to achieve mutual goals. And I can't think of a goal that has more national importance than the one of net-zero energy and energy-efficient homes.

Thank you all, again, for coming.