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Summary:

Uncle Sam is investing more than $76 million into 58 building efficiency projects. Here’s 10 companies to watch that won some of the funds.

It’s no secret that buildings can be energy hogs, and putting them on a power diet is quicker and cheaper than reducing green house gas emissions via solar panels. One of the latest investments in this space is coming from none other than Uncle Sam, and the Department of Energy announced today that it is putting more than $76 million into 58 building efficiency projects.

With money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the DOE wants new technologies and job training programs for building equipment operators, energy auditors and the like. The DOE estimates that 114 million households and more than 74 million square feet of commercial space account for 40 percent of the energy use and 39 percent of the carbon dioxide produced in this country.

Most of the companies on the list are giant building systems operators, but there were a few select startups that made the cut, like Soladigm, PAX and Sage. Here’s a look at 10 of the companies to watch that are getting some of these DOE funds:

1). Soladigm: Soladigm makes windows that it says can save 39 percent in energy consumption costs compared with buildings that are fitted with low-emissivity, insulating glass. The Milpitas, Calif., scored nearly $3.47 million to help it take its window tech out of the lab and into production. The company counts Khosla Ventures and Sigma Partners as its investors.

2). Sage Electrochromics: More window innovation. Based in Faribault, Minn., Sage Electrochromatics was awarded $1.63 million to improve the performance and reduce the prices of its glass panels for windows, skylights and building facades. The company plans to cut production costs by using cheaper materials and better manufacturing process and will use a coating of silver as a transparent conducting layer to lower the U value – the rate of heat flow through the glass (here are diagrams showing how the technology works).

3). PAX Streamline: Efficient air conditioning developer PAX is the second Khosla-backed startup on the list. The Novato, Calif., company is lining up $2 million to help it deliver equipment that uses non-vapor compression cycle, which the company says is more efficient than the conventional, vapor compression systems. The latest funding is the first public money for PAX, which recently received $3 million from a DOE program for funding early-stage but innovative technologies.

4). Siemens: The energy giant’s research division in Princeton, N.J., is due to get $1.42 million to develop the hardware and software to better control a building’s cooling, heating, lighting and other energy-consuming features. Siemens shouldn’t have a steep learning curve here since the company already has rolled out building-automation products to monitor a buidling’s energy use. The company has been busy pushing its offerings in smart grid, and recently teamed up with electric car-charging device maker Coulomb Technologies to jointly market their products.

5). National Semiconductor: The chipmaker is getting nearly $2 million to develop wireless sensors for controlling heating and cooling systems. The funding would help the Santa Clara, Calif.-based company to get to the pilot production and field-trial stages. National Semi also is using its chip know-how to tackle the solar market. It has rolled out SolarMagic, a chipset that can optimize the power production of each solar panel.

6). Honeywell: Building automation giant Honeywell is receiving $1.83 million to develop a system to monitor and analyze energy consumption in each home and recommend ways for the inhabitants to reduce energy costs. The company plans to target energy-guzzling items such as air conditioning, water heaters and pools, and the system would allow homeowners to control the energy consumption of appliances by scheduling their uses throughout the day. Honeywell already is a big player in the building automation field, and it recently bought startup Akuacom, which has developed servers that make it possible for utilities to automate demand response.

7). Philips Electronics: The Netherlands-based company is getting $2.19 million to develop integrated systems for controlling lighting as well as cooling and heating equipment for commercial buildings. Philips, of course, is a major player in the lighting business and has introduced energy-efficient LED bulbs (see our Q&A with the CEO of Philips Lighting North America), so the foray into a broader building efficiency field makes sense.

8). Johnson Controls: Automation giant Johnson Controls is getting money for two projects, which will get $2 million each. For the first project, the Milwaukee-based company will figure out new ways to control the energy use of various building appliances by using Internet Protocol. Johnson Controls already offers a building automation and control system, by the way, and has announced a marketing initiative with IBM in this space.

For the second project, Johnson Controls plans to develop products that will provide up-to-date information about electricity pricing from utilities to building owners and tenants. The goal is to let building operators adjust energy use based on the electricity rates they will have to pay at different times of the day.

9). Applied Materials: The chip equipment maker in Santa Clara, Calif., is getting nearly $2 million to develop tools for making electrochromic glass and windows. The company, which already develops machines for making chips and solar panels, hopes to develop the necessary gear to help make this type of windows – which can control the amount of light and heat that passes through – cheaper and more mainstream.

10). Dow Chemical: Chemical conglomerate Dow is getting $2.96 million to develop building insulation materials to cut energy losses through walls, foundations and roofs. Dow already is a maker of materials for roofs, floors and wall insulation.

Meanwhile, Dow Corning, a joint venture between Dow Chemical and Corning, also is getting federal funding this time. Dow Corning, also based in Midland, Mich., is set for $1.24 million to create a better insulating material for building exteriors. The material would make use of so-called vacuum insulated panel, which promises to deliver high thermal resistance.

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  1. Most of these investments are marginal improvements to technologies, some of which (e.g. Dow) the companies are investing in anyway. Most of the barriers to improving efficiency are financial and organizational – we have adequate technologies. See: Energy Efficiency Adventures http://climateinc.org/2010/06/energy-efficiency-adventures/
    Smart grid/DSM is the only area that really needs a big push (and government coordination) here.

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  2. [...] energy-efficient buildings, many other companies are eying opportunities in the window business. Sage Electrochromics in Minnesota has commercial products, and it recently won a $1.6 million DOE grant. Applied Materials has gotten nearly $2 million from the same DOE grant [...]

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