U.S. net-zero lab: all the comforts of home, except people

Mon Sep 17, 2012 11:53am EDT
Email This Article |
Share This Article
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • Twitter
| Print This Article | Single Page
[-] Text [+]

By Deborah Zabarenko

GAITHERSBURG, Maryland (Reuters) - Perched on a hilltop outside Washington, the U.S. government's net-zero energy laboratory looks a lot like the luxury houses nearby, with two significant differences: it will make as much energy as it uses, and only sensors, not people, live in it.

Designed to fit in a typical residential neighborhood, the 4,000 square foot (372 square metre) net-zero lab on the suburban campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology is so energy-efficient that over the course of a year it is expected to produce as much energy as it needs.

Its total energy consumption should be "net zero."

To measure energy use, researchers at NIST have created a virtual family of four - two imaginary working parents, a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old - and scripted their every meal, move and shower. The energy use of this typical family will be monitored.

Sensors and computer programs will simulate virtual people entering the living area or moving from room to room, taking a bath, cooking a meal, turning on a computer, a television or a toaster. The appliances and plumbing do exist and are controlled from a command center of sorts, located in the detached garage.

Small devices will simulate the heat and humidity that actual humans produce in the two-story, four-bedroom structure.

"This family is very cooperative, they do exactly what we want them to do, every minute of the day," Hunter Fanney, chief of NIST's Building Environment Lab, said at the project's official launch last week.

To gauge water use, the master bedroom's shower is fitted with a scale. Step into the shower stall and onto the scale, and a weight read-out appears outside. When the lab is in use, the system will figure out by weight whether the virtual parents or children are taking a shower, and how much hot water they use.   Continued...

An undated government handout photo shows a cut-away look inside the U.S. Commerce Department�s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) new laboratory designed to demonstrate that a typical-looking suburban home for a family of four can generate as much energy as it uses in a year. REUTERS/Building Science Corporation/Handout