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Greenbuild Conference Showcases Energy Saving Technology For Buildings

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Buildings, from homes to offices, are energy hungry. The Department of Energy estimates that buildings account for about 40 percent of the energy consumed in the U.S. Changing that is the topic of today's All Tech Considered.

(MUSIC)

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

In a moment, we'll hear about a NASA building that takes efficiency to new levels. First, some energy saving technologies that got attention at this month's Greenbuild International Conference. The massive annual event brings together designers, developers and builders.

SIEGEL: Alex Wilson is there every fall. He's the founder of BuildingGreen, a company that's a little like Consumer Reports for the industry.

ALEX WILSON: Every year, we present the most exciting new products that are coming along.

SIEGEL: Wilson says things that are changing our lives more broadly - digital technology and lithium-ion batteries - are changing the building industry too.

MCEVERS: He told our tech editor Franklyn Cater that one of his top 10 products for the coming year is a battery for your house. It can store energy from solar panels.

WILSON: The Tesla Powerwall system really revolutionizes battery storage at the home scale.

FRANKLYN CATER, BYLINE: Tesla, the car company.

WILSON: Tesla, the car company, right, that has revolutionized electric vehicles - they're on track to revolutionize home energy as well so you can, you know, operate a clothes dryer at night or a dishwasher at night with stored electricity.

MCEVERS: Wilson says this is big because finding an inexpensive way to store solar energy to use it when it's not sunny has been a challenge for a long time. Tesla system costs about $3,000 and mounts on a wall.

SIEGEL: Another product on Wilson's top 10 list may have you rethinking that sweater hanging in your cubicle. It is a lithium-ion-battery-powered, smartphone-operated office chair. The startup that makes it is run by a longtime expert in heating and cooling buildings.

PETER RUMSEY: My name is Peter Rumsey, and I'm the founder and CEO of Personal Comfort Systems. The No. 1 complaint of occupants of office buildings is too hot, too cold by far. Ask any building engineer, what - you know, what are people complaining about?

SIEGEL: And Rumsey thinks the solution is personalized temperature control through the Hyper Chair. It was invented at UC Berkeley.

RUMSEY: We're going to have the chairs take on more of the work of providing heating and cooling because they're battery-powered. They don't affect electricity prices during the day because we can charge them at night when electricity's cheaper.

SIEGEL: Rumsey says the long-term plan is an Internet-enabled chair that talks to the building to help heating and cooling run more efficiently.

MCEVERS: Just a couple of the new building technologies from month's Greenbuild Conference Washington, D.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.