FLEXLAB, short for the Facility for Low Energy Experiments, opened this summer at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Scientists, architects, and engineers can use these four buildings to mimic the conditions inside and outside just about any building on Earth to test different elements for energy efficiency.
The buildings can simulate temperature, sun exposure—even the body heat of people sitting inside them. One of the test beds rotates 270 degrees to track the movement of the sun so that it can emulate the light exposure a building would get at different latitudes or in different seasons.
The new $16 million facility’s biggest value will come from validating models that can predict how a certain window or a shade will perform in a particular location. The facility lets researchers swap out cladding, shades, and windows to test different configurations.
About 1,000 sensors monitor multiple building dynamics such as power, airflow, and lighting. Portable “occupant thermal generators” mimic the body heat of people sitting in a space. Large cooling and heating systems can make up for the lack of temperature and humidity variation in the Bay Area.