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Cascade: No. 79, Winter 2012

Consortium Seeks Energy-Efficient Commercial Buildings*

A federally funded consortium at Philadelphia’s Navy Yard is conducting research and developing building systems designed to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings by half in the 10-county Greater Philadelphia region.1

The Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster (GPIC) for Energy-Efficient Buildings, a consortium of 23 partners, led by Penn State, that includes universities, federal laboratories, corporations, and regional economic development agencies, has been awarded $130 million in federal funding, including $122 million from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) for an “energy innovation hub.” Meanwhile, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has committed $30 million of new capital funding that includes a retrofit of a Navy Yard building that will serve as the GPIC’s headquarters.

Paul Hallacher, a Penn State official who is GPIC’s co-director for management and administration, said, “For too long, the building industry has been fragmented, resulting in inefficient buildings that waste money and energy. The goal of GPIC is to identify and deploy technology, policy, financial, and workforce solutions that can apply to the general marketplace and help stimulate the regional economy.”

Figure: Top Candidate Properties for Energy Retrofits Scaled by Rentable Square Footage

The GPIC’s mission is to conduct research and develop highly efficient building components, systems, and models that reduce overall building energy consumption by 50 percent in a scalable, repeatable process that can be affordably applied to a broad spectrum of buildings. In the process, the GPIC aims to increase jobs and stimulate private investment.

The GPIC is working in six teams. The teams and their respective leaders are building design (IBM); integrated technologies (United Technologies Corporation); policies, markets, and behavior (University of Pennsylvania); education and workforce (Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory); deployment and commercialization (Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania); and collaborative demonstration (Penn State).

Residential and commercial buildings account for 40 percent of the total energy consumption in the U.S.2 An Econsult report commissioned by the GPIC estimates that nearly half of the commercial buildings in the Greater Philadelphia region are good candidates for energy-efficiency retrofits and that undertaking these retrofits could spur $618 million in local spending and support 23,500 jobs (see Figure). Another report, by Cozen O’Connor, describes policies and legal-related process factors in Pennsylvania and New Jersey that affect energy efficiency in commercial buildings.3

Members of the GPIC

  • Penn State (lead)
  • Bayer MaterialScience
  • Ben Franklin Technology Partners of Southeastern Pennsylvania
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Collegiate Consortium
  • Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center
  • Drexel University
  • IBM Corporation
  • Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Lutron Electronics, Inc.
  • Morgan State University
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation
  • PPG Industries
  • Princeton University – Plasma Physics Laboratory
  • Purdue University
  • Rutgers University
  • Turner Construction Company
  • United Technologies Corporation
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Pittsburgh
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wharton Small Business Development Center

According to Anthony Girifalco, executive vice president of Delaware Valley Industrial Resource Center (DVIRC), “Ultimately, GPIC wants to convince owners to make investments in retrofitting their properties. This involves rigorous auditing to determine the energy usage in the building and value-added design and engineering plans that result in measurable targeted savings in energy costs. To be successful, this must lead to a bankable deal.”

Girifalco added that the Navy Yard is ideally suited to test energy-efficient building system technologies because it has an independent, unregulated electric grid, as well as 270 buildings available for demonstration projects. Penn State, which has been active at the Navy Yard for the past 10 years, operates three other DOE-funded centers there.

Girifalco is part of the GPIC’s education and workforce team that wants to ensure that a workforce is trained in building audits, energy retrofit installations, and building maintenance and operation to support retrofit activity in the commercial building sector. The DVIRC is compiling a directory of energy-efficiency educational and training programs in technical high schools, community colleges, nonprofits, unions, and other sources.

Other DOE-funded energy innovation hubs exist, but the GPIC is the only one that focuses on investment and job creation, as well as on research and development.

The GPIC also receives funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and the National Institute for Standards and Technology. The GPIC is expected to be funded for five years, although the federal funds must be reauthorized by Congress each year. Additional funds may be found to continue the project beyond the initial five years.

The GPIC is hosting workshops, seminars, and other events to engage the building industry and other interested parties. A list of events and other information can be found at http://gpichub.org.

For information, contact Christine Knapp at cmk31@psu.edu E-Mail; http://gpichub.org/about External Link.

  • * The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia or the Federal Reserve System.
  • 1 The region consists of Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware, and Montgomery counties in Pennsylvania; and Burlington, Camden, Gloucester, Mercer, and Salem counties in New Jersey.
  • 2 See the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2008 Buildings Energy Data Book External Link.
  • 3 The reports are available at https://gpichub.org/activities/policy/gpic-reports External Link.