The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) held a briefing on the programs and priorities of the Department of Energy's Building Technologies Office (BTO), as reflected in its FY 2016 budget request. Why is DOE involved in researching and developing building technologies? Buildings represent 40 percent of the total energy used in the United States and a whopping 70 percent of the electricity used (for lighting, air-conditioning, appliances, electronics). Making buildings and the products that go into them more energy efficient will make a serious dent in U.S. energy use, save billions of dollars each year, improve comfort, and reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. BTO is seeking to reduce U.S. building energy consumption by 50 percent from a 2010 baseline.

Briefing highlights

  • Roland Risser, Director, Building Technologies Office (BTO), U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), said that his office's goal is to reduce U.S. building energy use by 50 percent from a 2010 baseline. The resulting fall in emissions would be equivalent to taking 178,000,000 cars off the road.
  • The office’s FY 2016 budget is $264 million and proposes to invest in three categories: research and development (into high-impact, emerging technology); market stimulation (verifying and improving performance and costs); and codes and standards (technical assistance on industry energy efficiency codes and continued development of regulations for appliance and equipment efficiency).
  • LED lighting's market share was 90 times larger in 2013 than in 2008 following rapid drops in cost due in part to DOE investments. Despite such strong growth, LEDs still only represent four percent of the market, leaving plenty of opportunities for more growth.
  • Modernizing the grid will allow buildings to perform more efficiently and cost effectively.
  • The Building Technologies Office has six Funding Opportunity Announcements (FOAs) for FY 2016. If Congress approves funding, FOAs could be published in October in the Federal Register and then posted on DOE's website. Learn more at
  • Jay Murdoch, Director of Government and Public Affairs, Owens Corning, discussed energy efficient buildings from the perspective of product manufacturers and home builders.
  • Building codes have increased in complexity over time and are difficult to understand for the average home builder. Murdoch suggested that building codes should be made more accessible to home builders [Note: Industry organizations develop model codes; DOE's primary role is to verify energy savings].
  • He praised two BTO programs for playing a key role in helping builders incorporate energy efficiency practices and technologies into their projects:
    • Building America (under Residential Buildings Integration) acts as a third party adviser and liaison between manufacturers with new energy efficiency products and home builders who may be unfamiliar with the products. Building America helps builders comply with new codes.
    • Building Energy Codes. This program provides technical assistance, code compliance software, and other resources to help builders meet building codes.
  • These programs help make the builder’s job easier while meeting energy efficiency codes that cut costs for home owners and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Adam Rosenberg, Democratic Staff Director, Energy Subcommittee, House Science, Space, & Technology Committee, discussed the role of federal policymakers in facilitating the development of energy efficient buildings.
  • The Science, Space, & Technology Committee has jurisdiction over legislation that authorizes DOE's work on energy research and development, including building energy use.
  • Congress has not passed a major energy bill since the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, but in this Congress there is bipartisan and bicameral interest in energy efficiency, which could become part of comprehensive energy legislation.
  • The U.S. government's role is not to pick “winners and losers” (which technologies will succeed and which will fail), but to fund basic and applied research that increases knowledge and its application. R&D partnerships with the private sector further leverage federal dollars and concentrate expertise to accelerate market-ready solutions.
  • Many in Congress do not understand the different offices within the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy and target the Office as a whole for budget cuts.

In addition to providing an overview of the Building Technologies Office, the briefing highlighted successful industry-government partnerships that are bringing technologies like solid-state lighting to the marketplace and helping builders construct “zero-energy” homes. The panel also addressed the role of Congress and building/energy issues on the horizon in the current session.

In view of the building sector’s importance, the DOE buildings program calls for a substantial 53 percent increase in proposed funding over 2015 enacted levels. The FY 2016 request of $264 million emphasizes R&D to improve the energy efficiency and performance of lighting, building materials and envelopes, and heating and cooling technologies; the development of appliance/equipment efficiency standards; and activities to improve the efficiency and resiliency of the electric power grid and its connections to buildings. The budget request also supports a new R&D effort for advanced heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems; provides information to boost consumers’ knowledge of “high-performing” houses and buildings; and supports technical assistance and training to help the building industry apply new technologies and practices cost-competitively.

It is important to know that the Building Technologies Office focuses on improving individual building components and products as well as improving the methods of putting them together. BTO integration programs, such as Building America, help building industry professionals achieve optimal energy performance for their projects with energy-use simulation tools and best practices in planning, design, construction and operation. Investing in building technologies and better buildings bolsters the building industry, U.S. competitiveness, national security, the health and well-being of everyone who uses buildings, and the resiliency of communities nationwide.