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December 9, 2004
Berkeley Lab Will Develop Energy-Efficient Building Operation
Curriculum for Community Colleges

BERKELEY, CA – Scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) are teaming with educators at the Peralta Community College District in Oakland, California to train community college students in the latest techniques of managing buildings for maximum energy efficiency.

One element of the curriculum will be a "flight simulator" for buildings.

The program will be for students in community college two-year programs who want to be heating, ventilation, cooling and refrigeration (HVAC&R) technicians, as well as those in building facilities management programs. The work is funded by a three-year, $900,000 grant from the National Science Foundation. Peralta is the prime contractor in this effort—its Laney College has offered a training program in this field for three decades.

"The are numerous gaps between the education received by building operators and technicians and current workplace needs," says Evan Mills, a scientist in Berkeley Lab's Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD). "To scope out the problem, we and our colleagues at Peralta conducted a focus group and follow-on interviews with about 40 industry stakeholders last year. They concurred that many of the problems we see today in achieving and maintaining energy savings in buildings can be traced to inadequacies in building operation and lack of awareness and knowledge about how existing systems are to be used, monitored, and maintained."

The Berkeley Lab-Peralta District team is developing the new curriculum and an innovative simulation-based learning tool to provide students with skills they need to commission and operate high-performance buildings, with emphasis on energy efficiency and indoor environmental quality for HVAC&R equipment and control systems.

Building commissioning is a quality control process to ensure that new or existing buildings operate according to the intent of their designers. Berkeley Lab studies show that commissioning improves building energy efficiency and is a highly cost-effective practice that achieves significant energy savings.

"To be successful in the environment of 21st century buildings, students must be immersed in complex problems, often with multiple solutions, and they must learn to operate in a problem-solving context," says Berkeley Lab's Philip Haves, leader of the Commercial Buildings Systems Group. The team plans to introduce a new instructional tool, a computer-based simulator that will immerse students in progressively more complex problem-solving scenarios, from components to systems. The simulator will help them understand how HVAC systems work, how to diagnose basic equipment problems, and how to use goal-oriented, problem-solving methods at a system level to solve more complicated problems. The simulator will have a graphical user interface with animations to explain concepts.

The new curriculum uses a computerized simulator for interactively solving problems in building energy efficiency

Peralta's Laney College offers the 30-year-old Environmental Control Technology program, which is similar in content to HVAC&R programs at community colleges around the country. The program serves about 50 new students each year. Through the NSF grant, the Berkeley Lab-Peralta partnership will increase this number to 600 students over three years across several community colleges. Berkeley Lab's Roland Otto, Head of the Center for Science and Engineering Education, says: "The Center will support faculty-student teams from institutions across the country to participate in research that exposes them to building energy science advances and career opportunities as building operators and technicians. This will also help build leadership at community colleges for curricular improvements."

The Center also plans to educate and support faculty and students at colleges with environmental controls technology associate degree programs so they can use the updated curriculum, beginning with a workshop to promote the dissemination of the tools in summer 2005. Another Center activity will provide mentored summer research experiences in the building sciences at Berkeley Lab for students completing associate degree programs. Finally, the team will develop and implement a standards-based physics course that provides high school students with concurrent credit at Laney College and Oakland Unified School District, in collaboration with high school teachers.

The Peralta Community College District consists of the College of Alameda, Laney College, Merritt College, and Vista Community College. The team includes Peter Crabtree of the Peralta District and Nick Kyriakopedi of Laney College. The Berkeley Lab members include Haves, Mills and Otto.

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