High-Performance Buildings

High Performance Buildings

The buildings sector is the world’s largest source of primary energy consumption – 40% – and ranks second after the industrial sector as a global source of direct and indirect carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from fuel combustion according to a forthcoming book chapter, “Global Opportunities and Challenges in Energy and Environmental Issues in the Buildings Sector.” According to the World Economic Forum, nearly half of all energy consumed by buildings could be avoided with new energy-efficient systems and equipment.

For more than three decades, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory’s (Berkeley Lab) International Energy Analysis Department (IEAD) has been working to deliver unbiased scientific research, analysis, and tools to make buildings around the world more energy efficient, cost effective, comfortable, and healthy. Core to the group’s value delivery model is an unparalleled technical knowledgebase and network of government, intergovernmental, academic, and industry partners, in addition to world class technical capabilities and facilities, such as FLEXLAB®.

Our researchers specialize in the following areas:

  • Codes and Standards
  • Benchmarking and Retrofit Targeting
  • Building Sector Policy Development
  • High Performance Building Design and Operation
  • Direct Current (DC) Power and Renewable Integration
  • District Energy Systems
  • Indoor Environmental Quality 
  • Energy Efficiency Financing 
  • U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for Building Energy Efficiency (CERC-BEE)
Codes and Standards

DOE-2 LogoMandatory or voluntary building energy codes and standards for new or existing buildings can play an important role in energy conservation. Studies indicate that efficiency standards can generate energy reductions of 20 to 40% or more. Since the 1990’s, Berkeley Lab has been working with emerging economies on building energy codes and standards development. Energy Plus LogoOur work has involved training in the use of DOE-2, EnergyPlus, and other building energy simulation software, as well as assistance in the drafting and implementation of building energy standards. 

In Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Berkeley Lab worked with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to support commercial building energy efficiency standard development, with a focus on Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand. For more, visit the ASEAN-USAID Building Energy Conservation Project

Currently, Berkeley Lab is conducting research to support next-generation outcome-based and net/nearly zero energy building (NZEB) codes and standards. Click here for a case-study-driven review of NZEB in hot and humid climates with technology choices and design features to support future codes and standards development.

At the urban scale, IEAD collaborated with China Green Buildings Council (GBC) to jointly develop low carbon district standards. The Chinese green district standard’s performance was compared with U.S. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards.

Benchmarking and Retrofit Targeting

Building operatR&D 100 2020 Winner Logoions account for 28% of global CO2 emissions. However, according to Architecture 2030, less than 1% of buildings are retrofitted annually. In order to increase the speed and scale of building retrofits globally, Berkeley Lab developed the Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER) – a free web application that quickly and easily identifies retrofit measures to decarbonize and electrify buildings.

Winner of a 2020 R&D 100 Award and the 2020 Berkeley Lab Director's Award for Exceptional Achievement in Technology Transfer, BETTER utilizes minimal data inputs to benchmark a building’s or portfolio’s energy use against peers; quantify energy, cost, and GHG reduction potential for investors; and recommend measures to decarbonize and electricity individual buildings or portfolios, targeting specific savings levels. Click here to access the BETTER web application.

BETTER weather-sensitive electric cooling load profiles and benchmarksElectricity Change-point Model


Berkeley Lab also developed the Commercial Building Retrofit Tool (COMBAT) to support Chinese shopping malls and hotels to conduct retrofit techno-economic analysis.

Building Sector Policy Development

Berkeley Lab is working with China, India, and other emerging economies on different aspects of building energy efficiency policy development by drawing on its expertise in the areas of: building sector modeling, electrification, operational and embodied CO2 emissions, and voluntary program design.

Building Sector Primary Energy Consumption and CO2 Emissions in ChinaBuilding Sector Modeling

Berkeley Lab works with emerging country national and local governments to develop, evaluate, and model the long-term impact of building energy efficiency on their economies. In 2016, Berkeley Lab developed building sector models with China National Development and Reform Commission, Energy Research Institute, and Rocky Mountain Institute for the groundbreaking Reinventing Fire China study. The modeling framework was subsequently applied to support additional cities to calculate CO2 emission reduction potentials and to establish low emission development pathways. Berkeley Lab has also collaborated with the C40 Climate Leadership Group to investigate policy advancement in Chinese cities to decarbonize their building sector. For more on our modeling capabilities, visit Energy Modeling and Pathways


Berkeley Lab also develops electrification scenarios to enhance renewables adoption and decarbonize the building sector. Recently, we conducted an in-depth analysis of how electrification can help decarbonize China’s building sector. It was determined that by switching cooking, water heating, and space heating fossil fuel energy to clean energy electricity, China could significantly reduce its building sector CO2 emission from 4,000 metric tons to 1,000 metric tons and achieve a sectoral electrification rate approximately 75%.

Embodied CO2 Emissions

In addition to analysis of energy and CO2 emissions from building operations, Berkeley Lab works actively to analyze and address emerging economies’ building sector embodied CO2 emissions from materials and construction. For more on this work, see a recent joint study with Tsinghua University which found that embodied CO2 emissions from building construction and materials in China was approximately 1600 metric tons and accounted for 17% of the country’s total CO2 emissions in 2015. When combined with building operations, China’s total building sector CO2 emission grew to 3900 metric tons and accounted for 41% of China’s total CO2 emissions in 2015. 

Voluntary Program Design

Best practices for high performance buildings are demonstrated and disseminated through Berkeley Lab’s international building sector research network. The Better Buildings Challenge (BBC) - China program is an example of a program Berkeley Lab helped establish to facilitate building owners and managers to voluntarily set and achieve ambitious energy savings targets by implementing operational and technological best practices.

High Performance Building Design and Operation

Case Study: Model for China's FutureBerkeley Lab is home to the world’s most advanced integrated building and grid technologies testbed: the Facility for Low Energy Experiments in Buildings (FLEXLAB), which allows users to develop and test energy-efficient building and grid technologies individually or as an integrated system, under real-world conditions. Berkeley Lab supported the development of an international version of FLEXLAB in collaboration with the Singapore Building Construction Authority (BCA). The testbed, called Skylab, is designed to experiment with integration of high-performance technologies in buildings and to provide researchers and the public with data and visibility into the built environment. 

Berkeley Lab also works with partners in emerging economies to assess sustainable design and low carbon building operation. See our recent publication, Model for China’s Future, which provides a case study of the Shenzhen Institute of Building Research (IBR) Headquarters - a living laboratory and has proven to be a model building for sustainable design throughout the world.

Direct Current (DC) Power and Renewable Integration

As solar renewable energy and battery storage are all operated in DC power, developing a DC power distribution system to better integrate with renewable energy in buildings is becoming increasingly important. Berkeley Lab works collaboratively with  industry and researchers to develop DC power pilot buildings in the U.S. and internationally. Studies have shown that DC power distribution in buildings has less system wide energy loss, and can also yield other benefits such as power safety, smart control and making buildings grid-friendly. Visit our publications page to learn more about our work in DC power and renewable energy integration.

District Energy System SchematicGraph showing energy loss for medium-size commercial ZNE building

District Energy Systems

Berkeley Lab developed a district energy planning tool, known as DEEP, for campus and small district scale energy planning to benefit the United States and emerging economies. The tool integrates heating, cooling, and electric loads with low energy resources. It calculates the most suitable technologies for district solutions. Equipment cost and heating and cooling pipelines are considered to help users optimize the topology of the system and find the best technological solutions for a community. DEEP provides free cloud based online computational solutions. To use DEEP, please contact our administrator who will connect you with the High Performance Buildings team lead.

Indoor Environmental Quality

As numerous emerging economies are experiencing severe air quality issues, mitigating indoor environmental pollutants and protecting occupants has become a critical component of high performance buildings research at Berkeley Lab. One person spends 90% of his/her time indoors. Thus, providing occupants, especially vulnerable groups like children and elderly, with good environmental air quality is extremely important.

Berkeley Lab conducts research to apply air filtration technologies to the ventilation system in buildings to reduce indoor occupants’ exposure to particulate matter. We also conduct research to develop air-cleaning technologies to remove pollutants such as Volatile Organic Components (VOC). In response to the COVID-19 threat, Berkeley Lab is also studying the drivers of airborne contaminants and particle transmission in the indoor environment. High resolution numerical simulations and experiment tests are being conducted to learn the contaminant distributions and transport mechanism.  For more, visit Berkeley Lab’s Indoor Environment Group.

Energy Efficiency Financing

Despite widespread acknowledgement that energy efficiency presents a massive economic opportunity, few structures exist in the market today for financial institutions to deploy capital for energy efficiency, resulting in the absence of energy efficiency as an asset class and slowing market adoption of advanced energy efficiency technologies.

Keeling Curve Prize LogoBerkeley Lab is working in the financing space to:

  • Uncover market and technical barriers to energy-efficiency financing
  • Build financial institution capacity on advanced building technologies that represent business and financial opportunities
  • Develop and pilot innovative energy-efficiency financial products
  • Analyze data on the performance of energy-efficiency financial products in order to continue to improve product performance and market uptake 

Berkeley Lab’s leadership on building energy efficiency financial product research and development was recognized with a 2019 Keeling Curve Prize Honorable Mention for innovation in financing tools and techniques. For more on this work, read one of our recent publications.

U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for Building Energy Efficiency (CERC-BEE)

CERCBEE LogoThe U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center for Building Energy Efficiency (CERC-BEE) program is a ten-year initiative directed by Berkeley Lab to support leading scientists from the United States and China in research to accelerate the development and deployment of advanced building technologies for real world impact.

CERC-BEE involves over 20 U.S. companies and 60 world-class scientists and focuses on technology innovation, evaluation, and real-building field validation. Through 2020, CERC-BEE has delivered 17 new products, 20 new copyrighted software tools, and 84 peer-reviewed publications. Numerous CERC-BEE technologies have earned prestigious awards, including: 2020, 2016, and 2013 R&D 100 Awards, a 2020 Berkeley Lab Director’s Award for Technology Transfer, a 2019 Keeling Curve Prize Honorable Mention, a 2019 HIVE 50 Award, a 2018 Best of Design Award for Digital Fabrication and a 2016 Gold Edison Award

For more information, visit the CERC-BEE website.

Additional Resources

Berkeley Lab provides cutting-edge research for the building industry in innovative and expansive ways. To learn more about our work, please access the web pages and resources below: