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Increasing Lab Sustainability with Better Lab Benchmarking

Earlier this year, I wrote about the brand new Lab Benchmarking Tool we developed with our partners at LBNL, I2SL, and DOE. I’m pleased to report that we’ve gotten lots of positive feedback since the LBT’s release! We’ve also been busy developing new features to enhance the tool, and it’s time for an update.

The common theme of our updates has been addressing some persistent barriers in the world of lab benchmarking.

Actionable Insights from Lab Benchmarking to Improve Sustainability

The first gap we tackled is the one that often appears between benchmarking buildings and taking action on energy efficiency. With the generous sponsorship of Siemens, we developed the Actionable Insights Module for the LBT and launched it in July 2019. The AI Module helps to make lab benchmarking actionable by using the building data entered by tool users to generate customized insights and ideas for energy efficiency measures, along with lists of links to resources that are relevant to their own buildings.

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A couple of examples:

  • If you indicate that your building contains 25,000 sf of lab space and 2 fume hoods, you’ll receive an insight advising that meaningful energy efficiency opportunities for that building are not likely to lie in fume hood efficiency efforts (because fume hood density is too low to be a major driver of lab airflow in that building). The insight instead guides you to consider opportunities for reduction of overall space airflow rates.
  • If you also enter a typical lab minimum airflow rate of 10 ACH, say, the AI Module will advise that this is a rather high ventilation rate by today’s standards. The module will go on to provide you with links to resources on hazard assessments and code considerations for setting lab ventilation rates.screenshot-increase-lab-sustainability-better-lab-benchmarking-tool-updates-october-2019-kw-engineering-energy-consultants
  • On the controls side, the AI Module is equipped with insights for a large range of situations. One example is implementing static pressure setpoint reset controls in lab buildings. This insight is generated if you indicate that your building has DDC controls and does not currently use static pressure resets. The module provides general information on the reset strategy, along with lab-specific considerations (what to do if VAV fume hoods are present or where Venturi valves are used for airflow control), and a link to an ASHRAE Journal article containing relevant advice.

… and of course the AI Module will link you to your nearest I2SL chapter so you can keep up with the latest in lab sustainability and share lessons learned with lab professionals in your area!

More Convenient Lab Benchmarking

The other barrier we’ve addressed this year is one that plagues us all: data entry. Nobody enjoys it, most of us avoid it, and some of us make lots of mistakes when we finally get around to it. We know that many of you are mandated to enter your building data into ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager®, and we all know that while Portfolio Manager will store your energy usage data, there’s no ENERGY STAR score for labs (more on that later) and you can’t enter the building properties needed to make a fair comparison between your lab and others (like the amount and type of lab space in the building, the number of fume hoods, etc.).

We can’t change Portfolio Manager, but we can make it a little bit easier for you to benchmark your lab buildings. With the support of DOE, we just released a module that allows you to connect your buildings in Portfolio Manager to your buildings in LBT, and to automatically download energy usage data to LBT. You’ll still have to enter lab type and fume hood counts in LBT, but duplicate energy data entry is now a thing of the past!

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Future Improvements to the Lab Benchmarking Tool

We’ve come a long way over the past year, and we’ve addressed some major barriers, but we’ve still got big plans for the future. Here are some of them:

  • We’d like to introduce an I2SL energy score for lab buildings. Energy scores are a quick way to track and report performance, and I’m often asked if we can provide one in the LBT. Based on some work kW did with the Boston Green Ribbon Commission a few years ago, it’s very likely that the answer is yes: we can indeed generate a meaningful nationwide energy score for labs (similar to an ENERGY STAR score). To make that happen, we need recent energy usage data from more buildings across the US. If you haven’t done so yet, please visit the LBT and enter your data so we can make the lab energy score a reality.

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  • We’re looking to collaborate with international partners to break down the existing barriers to cross-border comparisons. We’d love to enhance the LBT to accommodate metric units and global locations.
  • Finally, we want to borrow from the business world and extend lab benchmarking beyond just energy consumption and into the realms of operational practices. By collecting data on organizations’ policies and practices like implemented control strategies, methods for setting ventilation rates, or occupant engagement programs, we could allow building owners to gauge their progress against industry standard practice – to see if they are on the leading edge or playing catchup.

All of these modules, new and on the wishlist, are designed to promote improved efficiency and sustainability across our lab industry. Crucially, the LBT is a community tool: the more data we all submit, the richer the dataset becomes, and the more powerful analysis we enable. Check out the new modules and let me know what you think! And if you have ideas for how we can break down more barriers with lab benchmarking (or if you’d like to sponsor development of any of the above), please get in touch!

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