The BigHorn Home Improvement Center, a retail complex in Silverthorne, Colo., is an example of a retailer using natural daylighting to reduce energy use. Using daylighting in a commercial setting substantially reduces electric lighting use and minimizes heat gain from electric lighting, which reduces air conditioning loads. (Courtesy of DOE/NREL, Credit-Jim Yost)

Walk into a retail or office building, and something’s at work all around that is often taken for granted - energy. Energy to cool or heat the building, energy for refrigerated display cases, energy to operate the lights.

Partners from the private sector, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and two national labs, National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), are working together to reduce energy consumption in commercial buildings in the United States. NREL has launched a new Website dedicated to this collaborative research project, dubbed “National Accounts.”

NREL and PNNL are currently working with 23 National Accounts Companies (NACs), including nine retailers, 13 real estate management companies, and one distribution facility. Through the program, the team will create, test, and validate design concepts that will help in the move towards net-zero energy commercial buildings.


National Accounts is part of DOE’s Net-Zero Energy Commercial Building Initiative (CBI), which was mandated by the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA). EISA enabled DOE to bring together parties from the private sector, DOE national labs, other federal agencies, and nongovernmental organizations to advance research into low- and zero-net-energy buildings. CBI’s goal is to develop market-ready, net-zero energy commercial buildings by 2025. A net-zero energy building makes as much energy as it uses over a year.

The CBI program is currently funded as a public-private cost share. DOE is contributing $15 million through the technical expertise of NREL and PNNL. Companies kick in 20 percent of the project value. Construction costs and capital improvement fees to retrofit older buildings are not included in the program.

Currently, said DOE, retail and office buildings consume 18 percent of the nation’s total energy and one-half of its overall building energy (including homes, schools, and other structures). The program partners will work to build new facilities that use 50 percent less energy and retrofit older buildings to use 30 percent less energy.

“This program is unique because it involves the energy end-users,” explained Paul Torcellini, NREL senior engineer. “Using a flipped model, we are engaging energy consumers from a business point of view.”

The business motivation for participants is often related to their bottom lines. “Some retailers’ margins are so small, they can actually make money by saving money with energy efficiency,” Torcellini said.


As partners in the program, NREL provides technical and research support to the NACs. “When they come up with questions,” said Torcellini, “we do the analysis and say, ‘This is what you should do to get the maximum value.’ ”

Issues like daylighting and refrigeration are a couple of the energy design measures the teams are beginning to tackle.

“Another area we are evaluating is outside air,” added Torcellini. “How much ventilation do you really need for retail space? If we are over-ventilating, then we have extra air to heat and cool.”

Having NREL staffers serve as technical advisers is a perk for the companies participating in the program. In addition, each NAC receives assistance from NREL that may include:

• State-of-the-art energy modeling;

• Integrated design processes that incorporate energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies;

• Low-energy building designs that can be replicated across company portfolios; and

• Guidance to help procure materials and equipment.

The energy modeling saves building owners time and effort as they develop low-energy buildings. “The modeling allows everyone involved in the project to run through what-if scenarios relatively inexpensively, and it’s one of the services the teams get from NREL as part of the cost-share,” Torcellini said.

NREL also wants to provide data and tools for anyone interested in using these strategies to build or renovate low-energy buildings.

“We are also helping make the business case for incorporating these technologies,” Torcellini said. “We’ll be preparing case studies and research reports, and we’ll be measuring actual performance against energy goals. And, we’ll work with NAC members to share non-proprietary research with members of their industry.”


NREL said its new National Accounts Website helps to “make the case” for more energy-efficient buildings. Some NACs will be posting information about their work with National Accounts, including lessons learned, what’s working, and the challenges they’ve encountered as their new construction and/or renovation projects progress. They will also share non-proprietary details about how they achieved energy efficiency targets.

“What’s exciting about the fruits of this program is that the participating companies will continue to benefit from reduced energy costs long after the construction or retrofitting is complete,” Torcellini said. “They’ll also have been involved in a program that will help the commercial building industry develop new best practices for low-energy design.”

For more information, visit the NREL Commercial Building National Accounts Web page at

Publication date:10/12/2009