Engaging Underserved Communities in Field Validations of Commercial Energy Efficiency Technologies
>>Alyssa: Okay, so it looks like we at least have our first group of folks joining. I'm sure a few more people will trickle in as we are starting today. Good afternoon. Thank you again for joining us. So, today we are talking about engaging underserved communities in field validations of commercial energy efficiency technologies. We're joined by our presenter Kelsea Dombrowski, a community energy researcher in the Communities and Urban Science Research Group here at NREL.
So, while we're still waiting for people to trickle in, we are going to start with a few poll questions. So, let me launch that right now. Okay, so the first poll that you see here is we want to know what sector do you work in. So, take a few moments and just select whichever one is most relevant to you.
Okay, I think that we got everyone. So, just so you can see who is here with you in the webinar, looks like we have quite a few folks from government and research and someone from education, so hello, thank you again for joining us. And then we will go ahead and share our second poll.
This one is, how did you hear about this webinar? So again, take a moment to just let us know how you heard about us. Okay, so it looks like you all heard about us from a variety of different areas, so, from LinkedIn, email, and then other. Okay, great. So, then our last poll question that we have for you is actually a question that we're going to ask you to respond in the chat with and I believe it's on a slide. If not, I can definitely read it. Yeah.
What other community focused buildings research topics are you interested in learning about? So, please just drop your answer in the chat and then I'll read aloud what we're seeing in the chat come through. Okay, I'm starting to see some answers trickle through such as, what benefits do DACs prioritize when it comes to energy efficiency upgrades, and where do they go to for information? Another one I'm seeing is absorption, cooling, and heating. Indoor air quality related to the health of building occupants. We'll give it another minute or two to see if there's any other.
>>Kelsea: Alyssa, can I check quick? Are you seeing a bar across the top of my screen, or is it clear slide for you? >>Alyssa: It's a clear slide for me. >>Kelsea: Excellent. Just wanted to be sure people could read. Thank you.
>>Alyssa: Okay, I guess the folks who wanted to answer that question have done so, but if you think of anything else that you want to add to the chat like you definitely can. In terms of questions throughout the webinar we will be asking that you use the Q&A function. We will stop for questions around the midway point and then at the end again, so we will definitely get to any questions that come in so you can submit them at any time.
But without further ado, I'm going to turn it over to Kelsea. >>Kelsea: Great. Thank you.
Good morning or afternoon, everyone, depending on where you're joining us from. As Alyssa mentioned earlier, I'm Kelsey Dombrowski. I'm a community energy researcher in commercial buildings here at the National Renewable Energy Lab. And today I'm talking about a project that we've been working on for about a year.
This is one of our culminating events, and today we're focusing on engaging underserved communities in field validations of commercial building energy efficiency technologies. And there's a lot of different steps along the research and development timeline that it's important to include as many voices and perspectives as possible, and this project in particular is focusing on the field validation stage. So, we'll go into definitions in a little bit, but just giving you that primer. So, first we'll go over some terminology, we'll talk about why this is important, why this will be an improvement, the goals of this project, how we approach this project, our findings, some of our conclusions, and then we'll have time for some Q&A.
There will also be a Q&A pause around the middle of the presentation as well, so if something comes to you, feel free to put your question in the Q&A box and we'll grab it when it is relevant. So first, let's start with some terminology and definitions to be sure we're all on the same page. So, as I mentioned earlier, field validation is a part of the research and development timeline when developing new technology, and it consists of the installation and evaluation of a new technology in the field.
So, in a building that's in normal operation being used for typical building practices, rather than evaluating that technology in a lab. Underserved communities, for the purpose of this project, uses the U.S. Department of Energy's definition of disadvantaged communities, or DAC, that someone had mentioned earlier. And we add in groups that are typically underrepresented in the field validation process. For example, places like community serving organizations or nonprofits.
And then finally, this project focuses on validation of commercial building energy technologies, so not residential technologies that would be in someone's home, but technologies that would be in commercial buildings, like a business, nonprofit, community center, school, daycare, or nursing home. And many multifamily buildings fall into this category. In this case, these are often small and medium in size. Traditional commercial building field validations typically occur in newer, larger, and technologically sophisticated buildings, not located in underserved communities. And this is pretty limiting when we're thinking about who is engaged in these validations, the types of data we're collecting about the technology and how it can perform in different types of buildings and buildings with different technological levels. And so, it's important to broaden our range of field validation locations.
So, if we do this, we'll expand engagement opportunities, data collection, and really start moving in the direction of equitable decarbonization, which is one of our big goals, decarbonization for everyone. So, these validations should be conducted in underserved communities, under resourced communities, and older, smaller, and less sophisticated buildings. And it's beneficial to these technologies that are new or coming online to the field as well, getting more complete data on their performance, where they might perform well, what changes need to be made. This is another way to help teach people about new technologies that are coming out, connecting with the building owners, as well as the tenants of the building, whether that's commercial tenants, as well as the occupants.
And so, those three groups can be different, and they could all learn a little bit more about this technology, which would be hugely beneficial. And there's also the chance to increase energy savings with these improved technologies, as well as co-benefits. And co-benefits are those benefits that go beyond saving energy. So, we heard from a lot of the experts we spoke with for this project that small building owners, building owners in general, have a lot of things are trying to improve in their buildings at any given time and saving energy may not be top of the list. But if this new technology could help solve some of their other challenges that would be extra beneficial, and they may be more inclined to look into and adopt this technology. So, some of these co-benefits include occupant comfort, improved indoor air quality, greater resilience during power outages, having greater control over their systems in the building, as well as improved operations and productivity.
So, the goal of this project is really to develop guidance for performing field validations in and with underserved communities. And we're producing outputs like this webinar and a quickly forthcoming guidance resource that you see an image of on the right that have specific and chronological steps that researchers or others conducting field validations can use in their partnership building and their validation process. And we're hoping this leads to greater inclusion in field validations in the future, and really being thoughtful about how we proceed with this stage of research and development. This project is also hoping to advance some of the U.S. Department of Energy, energy justice goals by expanding field validation opportunities, introducing new technologies, improving technology to building compatibility, creating new partnerships, and again providing that guidance, those steps that people can take. So, we approach this project from two directions.
We looked at existing technical reports detailing previous field validations to identify the building characteristics that those validations commonly required, and we looked at what is typically required and where greater flexibility could be built into those characteristics to expand the buildings that could be used for field validations. We also spoke with nearly 30 experts across the energy field to ask about best practices with conducting field validations generally, but also thinking specifically about working with partners in underserved communities and how that may change the typical process. So, a little bit more detail now on each of these directions. Again, when looking for the building characteristics that are common in field validation sites, we did a content analysis of existing reports, determined required and desired site characteristics when it comes to the technology being evaluated, and then we conducted a thematic analysis to determine the categories you see at the right.
And we identified characteristics that may be less likely in older or smaller buildings that may occur in underserved communities and how flexibility could be built into those required or desired characteristics. And a little bit more detail on our approach to engagement and getting that guidance for engagement. Again, we spoke with almost 30 experts across the energy field. The figure at the right shows the different portions of the field that they associate with.
And you'll see that there's a large portion of people associated with the National Lab complex, and this is related to the field validation process and how a number of those are completed by researchers that work at a National Lab. So, to get this information from our experts, we had semi-structured conversations. The folks were in the field validation expertise area, as well as community engagement and equity, energy management, and research logistics. We conducted a thematic analysis on their responses, and we developed stages as well as themes or steps of the field validation process that researchers could then follow when they conduct their own field validation.
So, now getting into the findings, we'll start again with building characteristics. So, 12 categories resulted from our analysis. You can see them here at the right. And again, we really thought about where flexibility could be applied across these categories. We wanted to think about ways that researchers could creatively work with older, smaller, or less sophisticated buildings and really evaluate what's needed when it comes to a field validation, considering both the building and the tested technology.
So, here are a few examples and all 12 characteristics, as well as these discussion and recommendation pieces will be in the guidance document that we're producing. So, to start electrical infrastructure as a category, some of the characteristics under this category are clearly mapped electrical infrastructure, and then specific requirements around panels, circuits, and capacities, things like that. And so, this information is helpful to the researcher or the person conducting the field validation, but it's also helpful information for the building owner to know this about their building if they don't already have that information. And so, if this information is unavailable for some reason, maybe the building was recently sold, or maybe it's a historic building and some records have been lost over time, the research team can assist with cataloging this information, and this will give them the information they need as to whether or not the validation will be a good fit, but it's also helpful information that the building owner can then take with them and keep in their records for future use.
And our second category example is Internet and Wi-Fi. And many studies detailed good to excellent wireless service, and sometimes reliable service is hard to find. The building may be old and may be a rural area or just an area with less coverage.
And while wireless service may be helpful, it's possible that many studies could proceed without this service or with a lower speed of service. But researchers still could install cellular modems for the duration of the study and also give this important feedback to the technology company that there will be limited ability to adopt this technology when it comes to internet requirements if that is indeed required for that technology to function properly. So, this is the first pause for questions that we mentioned earlier. So, any questions so far either on these building characteristic pieces or anything that was mentioned previously? >>Alyssa: And we currently don't have any questions sitting in the Q&A, but we definitely encourage you to ask them. And I think we'll give a minute or two to see if anybody has some questions that they want to ask. >>Kelsea: Sure.
Okay. It feels good to move on for me, but if another question shows up, we can certainly talk about it at the end. So, now we'll go into the findings on engaging an underserved community with a field validation. And so again, these findings came from speaking with our nearly 30 experts across the field, and we found five stages and 30 themes or steps underneath those stages to help guide researchers or others conducting field validations through the process. So, I'll start with giving a really high level summary of each of these stages, and then we'll move into the themes or steps underneath each stage.
So, to start, field validation considerations in underserved communities. We want to be sure that the validation is the right fit for both the building and the community, and that there's no chance of introducing any additional risks. And we want to be really cognizant of the benefits of working with an underserved community and perhaps a smaller building than typically used in a validation. The second stage is research design and project planning, and this stage is really about building in extra time, budget, and project flexibility. We're working with new partners. It takes time to build those relationships and it also takes time to properly evaluate the building again to ensure that the technology is a good fit and won't introduce any unexpected risks or other concerns.
Stage three is finding a building partner and we want to say here that it's important to work with a partner in this process as early as you can. What we heard from our experts and folks who conduct validations regularly is that this is often where this step falls is after research and project planning, but we'd really like to encourage people to connect with a partner as early as possible. But given that this is often where this stage can land, this is where it is in this stage progression. Regardless, in this stage, it's really beneficial to engage with the community to find a partner. And this can mean working with an organization that connects the research team to their constituents who could be a building partner.
Often these are referred to as bridging organizations, these connecting organizations, and so it's important for the research team to think about connecting with an organization like that, as well as with building owners and tenants. And we always want to prioritize equity when engaging with groups that may have traditionally been excluded from this process. They may have some hesitancy and questions or negative past experiences with other large organizations.
So, it's really important to keep all of those things in mind. Stage four is working with the building owner or on site contact, and here there's a distinction. So, the building owner is the individual or group who owns the building, but that person may not work in the building regularly or be local to the area. So, an on-site contact may be the person that the research team engages with most regularly. So, in stage four, we need to be working closely with that person, building owner, or on site contact, always being very respectful of their time, supportive of their needs and questions, and really following through on the expectations that were set. And adding in a lot of emphasis on collaboration in this process, as well as looking to improve the function of the building.
Stage five is after the research. And in this stage, at a high level, we want to be thinking about the validation as the beginning of a relationship with that partner, and as a way to keep a door open and engage that partner over time. For example, if the research team sees an advertisement for a funding opportunity that that partner may qualify for, sending that off to them, kind of really keeping that relationship alive with beneficial information is important to do after the research. And after the research, of course, we're sharing results with parties that are directly involved, such as the tenants, the building owner, the bridging organization who connected us, as well as other parties who would really benefit from learning the results of the validation, like energy program managers or utilities. And finally, we received some additional feedback that was outside of these stages of a field validation.
And so, high level takeaways from this were to seek input from experts or practitioners in multiple fields when developing proposals to ensure that they're well rounded and thoughtful, and expect the process of working with a new partner and one in an underserved community to involve both scientific and interpersonal nuances as you try to find a best fit. So, next I'll go through the themes or steps under each stage, and these are pieces that researchers or the validation team should keep in mind as they're proceeding through this process. So, under stage one, field validation considerations in underserved communities, researchers should be sure to address energy use, emissions, and climate change, prioritize energy equity, really leverage this as an opportunity to improve technology development, increase energy efficiency technology adoption, help people feel more comfortable with this technology, always be respectful and do no harm, and communicate simply and without jargon or language that might be confusing or too technical. Stage two is research design and project planning and the themes or steps that researchers should consider under this stage are to again really focus on research design flexibility, including building in time to evaluate possible risks or concerns.
To integrate energy equity and other metrics along with technology evaluation metrics into the study. There may even be some metrics that the building owner or on site contact is really interested in learning more about, about their building, so integrating those. And building flexibility into the project timeline, so how long each stage may take and the budget, so the amount allocated to each of the stages and the project overall. Under stage three, find a building partner. Themes or steps that researchers should consider are evaluating and consulting online tools.
There's a number of online tools that can give geographic and other information about different neighborhoods and areas that could be validation site candidates. To really work to understand underserved areas, especially the research area and the history that area has. Again, working with that connector or bridging organization to find a partner and compensating that bridging organization for their time. Thoughtfully selecting a building that's a good fit for the technology and the building owner.
Analyzing the technical and interior building characteristics to ensure a good fit. Thoughtfully pitching the project again in a very clear way, not full of scientific jargon or terminology that could be confusing. Work to solve problems beyond saving energy, again seeking those co-benefits. Considering the unique concerns of the building owners, that will vary building to building and owner to owner and what their biggest challenges are.
Being very transparent and honest when communicating, and considering the unique concerns of building tenants and how those concerns may be different than those of the building owner. Stage four is working with the building owner or on site contact. Themes or steps that researchers should consider under this stage are to develop clear and straightforward agreements about who's responsible for what, timelines, to identify reliable points of contact on either side of the relationship, compensate the building owner for their time contributed to the project, they are the expert on this building, to plan for disruptions and mitigate them as much as possible, for example, doing maintenance and installations during quiet times in the building. Monitor, evaluate, and maintain equipment and systems, not leaving things kind of non-functional for any longer than necessary. And consider the impacts on the owner at the end of the study. If the owner chooses not to keep the technology, what is the plan for the replacement of that technology and the removal? Stage five is after the research, and themes or steps under this stage are to maintain existing relationships and continue to build that connection, to offer ongoing technical support and resources as it makes sense, and to share results and findings with all groups that could benefit from learning about that.
And that could be the immediate building and its occupants, but it could also be utilities who are interested in promoting that technology. It would be helpful for them to know how the validation proceeded as well. And then finally, additional feedback.
The themes under this category were to develop requirements for requests for proposal that were broader than just technology validation, including other metrics, and to expand community engagement around field validations generally. And so, conclusions from this project include that field validations are one way to increase engagement and accessibility of new technologies. Certainly, there's a number of ways to engage with new audiences for these new technologies, and this is one way. This work also sets the stage for a shift in the typical way we approach field validation research. And that ongoing information exchange between user experiences in the building and what they're seeking from the technology and technology design is important for continued improvement.
That feedback loop is very important. And that additional financial and time resources may be required when working with a new partner or in a building that may have unpredictable characteristics, but that this could also really lead to increased innovation and the application of new approaches to this work. Next steps for this project are the publication of a guidance document containing all of this information as well as more coming just in the next couple weeks. The webinar recording of this webinar event, utilization of this guidance and upcoming validations and other projects that have a community engagement component. And this is a great examination of some of our research practices that could benefit from greater inclusivity and accessibility.
So, that concludes the content portion and I'd love to hear any questions that we've received. >>Alyssa: Yeah, thank you so much, Kelsea, and we have received a few questions. So, the first one that we have is how does one know they are doing no harm? Does this involve bias training? >>Kelsea: That's a great question. I think there are a lot of components to that. I think that's an excellent question.
One thing that we've talked about in our expert discussions is really looking at the technology building match and thinking about, is there a possibility that this technology may increase opportunities for something like mold growth or decreased indoor air quality rather than improved indoor air quality? And really doing like a pretty technical analysis of the technology’s impact on the building, but I think we could really also benefit from something like the bias training that you mentioned. There is more than one way to negatively impact and do harm to a person or a group of people. And so, really thinking about the building occupants, the building owners as participants in the study, and how could this negatively affect them both like interpersonally as well as the building conditions is really important. So, I think that's a great point.
I think it would be helpful maybe to have some additional metrics and guidelines around that as well. Yeah. >>Alyssa: Thank you.
And so, our next question is, do you think that the choice of technologies for field validation should be different for underserved communities? Maybe looking for more mature tech that has gone through more lab work, other field validations. >>Kelsea: This is another great question. So, we've received a good amount of feedback that for these cases, the technology needs to be very ready. It's still a technology validation, but we want a high level of certainty that the technology will not fail, will not have negative repercussions that might be unexpected, that it's pretty reliable as a technology.
And so, that's a technology consideration in terms of the state of that technology. But there's another way to think about that question in terms of the actual technology being evaluated, and we had a few suggestions in our expert discussions that in these small and medium commercial buildings, it may be valuable to validate residential technologies that can apply to that size of structure. And so, that's another consideration when thinking about technology selection, that there may be a piece of technology, let's just say a water heater, that could be used in a home, but could also be used in a small commercial setting as well.
And thinking about what's really appropriate for that setting. Some technologies may be meant for larger buildings and so, it wouldn't make sense in a neighborhood that had smaller scale buildings as well. And some other technology examples of technologies that could be validated include things like plug technologies. There's a variety of HVAC technologies.
So, there's really a range of technology in terms of interaction between building occupants and that technology as well. So, I would put that as a third consideration is how much will that technology need to be interacted with to produce the desired effects. And are the tenants or occupants of that building, do they use the building in such a way that they would have that regular interaction? So, lots of things to think about when thinking about proper technology selection.
Yeah. >>Alyssa: Great. Thank you. It doesn't look like we have any other questions right now.
I'm not sure if you wanted to pause a moment and see if any others come in or if you are comfortable moving into our final words. >>Kelsea: I think we could wait a few seconds and see if any questions come in and also feel free to contact me. My email address is here on the screen. I'm always happy to hear from people and think about new ways of partnering and new research topic ideas. It's really nice to connect with people, so please feel free to email me if you have ideas or thoughts on any of those pieces.
>>Alyssa: Okay. So, it doesn't look like any questions have come in. >>Kelsea: I think we could wrap up then. I think that makes sense.
Yeah. >>Alyssa: Yeah, and as we continue to host these webinars as well, we're going to be looking for new ways to communicate with all of you to make sure that webinars like these are in the forefront of whatever means you prefer for communicating. So, if there is a preferred communication method, let us know. We will be sending a follow-up email, so that would be a great opportunity to let us know of other ways that we can reach out. So, that being said, thank you so much for joining us today, Kelsea and walking us through this topic.
And I'd like to thank everyone for joining the webinar. That was really great. We will, like I said, we will be sending a follow-up email with a short survey, a PDF of the slides, a link to the webinar on YouTube, and the published resource that Kelsea mentioned in her presentation. So, keep an eye out for that. And Kelsea said, please feel free to reach out to us with any questions that you may have.
Otherwise, have a great rest of your day. >>Kelsea: Thanks for joining everyone.