Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow (BEST) Center 2021 Annual Institute

February 8, 2021

More than 300 people attended the 2021 Annual Institute conference, with this year’s event focused on sustaining healthy and energy efficient buildings through technician education. 

Key presentations were given by Lawrence Berkeley National Labortaory (Berkeley Lab) staff, including Mary Ann Piette, pictured, Division Director of Building Technology & Urban Systems (BTUS) in the Energy Technologies Area (ETA). Making a business case for a healthy building; buildings and wildfires; and grid-interactive efficient buildings were just some of the topics covered.

Co-hosted by the Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow (BEST) Center and Berkeley Lab, the 2021 Annual Institute is the key event offered for faculty, students, and technical professionals aspiring to improve the knowledge and practice of high-performance building operations.

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation and managed by Laney College, the BEST Center supports publicly funded 2- and 4-year colleges and industry partners to advance educational programs in building science, building automation and energy management. Currently, buildings in the United States consume almost 40% of our energy resources. The BEST Center recognizes that improved building efficiency is paramount to reducing the U.S. carbon footprint, and its mission to create high-performance buildings technicians through curriculum development and increased engagement with community and technical colleges plays a significant role. 

This year’s two-day conference was held virtually on January 6 - 7 and geared towards college educators and students, high school science and engineering teachers, building engineers, technicians, facilities managers, building design and construction professionals and policymakers. The agenda was packed with a dynamic line-up of speakers from a diverse set of universities, research institutions and industry partners, including Laney College, Harvard Business School, Berkeley Lab, Valencia College and Madison Area Technical College. The speakers covered topics ranging from ventilation standards in the time of COVID to recruiting students for high-tech science, technology, engineering and math (STEM)  programs to highlighting the growth of renewable energy use in the U.S. and the need for grid interactive efficient buildings.

Berkeley Lab researchers from BTUS and the Energy Analysis & Environmental Impacts Division (EAEI) in ETA played a significant role at the 2021 Annual Institute where they shared their latest findings, showcased new innovative tools, and provided an overview of pioneering research areas related to building science and engineering. 

BTUS Staff Scientist Iain Walker discussed the latest issues in ventilation with a specific highlight on how ventilation can help prevent the spread of COVID. EAEI Mechanical Engineer Woody Delp presented his research on low-cost particle monitors to help evaluate the impact of wildfire smoke on indoor air quality and discussed mitigation techniques such as filtration systems in buildings. BTUS Program Manager Carolyn Szum showcased the recently developed Building Efficiency Targeting Tool for Energy Retrofits (BETTER) – a free web application that enables building operators to quickly, easily identify the most cost-saving energy efficiency measures in buildings and portfolios. BTUS Staff Scientist Jessica Granderson provided an overview of energy management and information systems (EMIS) technology and made the case for why engineers and operators of commercial buildings will rely more heavily on EMIS technology in the future.   

“This has been a phenomenal opportunity for us to collaborate to try to create curricula that helps us ensure the technicians of the future will be able to understand emerging needs in building technology. These needs include understanding the complexity in energy consumption, integrating building and our changing electric grid with more renewables, in carbon mitigation activities, and in all of these new requirements for building controls,” said BTUS Division Director Mary Ann Piette. “When we think about today’s workforce in the building sector, we actually know there is a huge opportunity for good, green jobs and the lack of training among service technicians and field technicians is one of the barriers towards that change. So this kind of training is exactly what we need, and I think we are going to see more investment in this topic over the next few years as we think about the current economy and the need for these good jobs.”

Although the BEST Center’s Annual Institute usually offers a very hands-on experience for attendees, the virtual event successfully engaged nearly 50 participants during many sessions, and the platform included educational and technical research presentations and demonstrations by leading experts, a virtual expo hall to meet industry sponsors, vendors and researchers, and free resources and opportunities for professional networking and training. 

View recordings of the 2021 Annual Institute events here:




Kiran Julin