BEST Institute Focuses on Less Carbon, More Action Strategies for Better Buildings & Tech Education

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The Best Center’s 2024 National Institute on January 4 and 5 featured 28 speakers—many of them Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory researchers—talking about new energy technologies and sharing climate data in the context of educating technicians to run energy efficient buildings.

Lustgarten says “environmental changes are more extreme and they’re already unfolding more quickly” than in the past.

The keynote speakers were Abrahm Lustgarten, author of On the Move: The Overheating Earth and the Uprooting of America, and Mary Ann Piette, a senior scientist and associate lab director in the Energy Technologies Area of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL)—a U.S. Department of Energy-funded research and development center.

BEST, which stands for Building Efficiency for a Sustainable Tomorrow, is an Advanced Technological Education center at the University of California, Berkeley, that focuses on preparing educators to teach the advanced technical and cognitive skills that people need for careers in building automation systems, energy management, and heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC).

Recordings of the 12 hours of live webinar presentations with transcripts and PDFs of the speakers’ slides may be accessed for the next year at no cost from the institute’s event agenda.

BEST leaders also used the virtual institute as a forum to report on the High-Performance Building Operations Professional (HPBOP) certification they developed to meet international industry standards and accreditation guidelines. Center leaders hope that by hitting these benchmarks, the certification will become the national standard for the knowledge, skills, and attitudes for building technicians to operate and maintain high-performance commercial buildings for safety, health, and sustainability.

“New technologies and policies offer a huge opportunity to decarbonize buildings,” Piette said.

The center is currently seeking educators and technical professionals to participate in pilot tests of the certification exam to help the center finalize the bank of test questions it developed with industry partners and testing experts. For more information on the exam see

BEST Principal Investigator Peter Crabtree said it has been a “long and arduous” process to develop HPBOP certification with the endeavor stretching back to the center’s early development of best practices. He told the institute audience that he would like 50 more people to take the exam so the pilot can be completed by spring 2024 and the certification, which is endorsed by the National Institute of Building Sciences, can be offered as a national credential.

Journalist Describes Climate Migration  

During his keynote address on January 4 Lustgarten, a journalist and climate researcher, shared data about global hot spots and stories of individuals whose lives have been tragically affected by climate change. Lustgarten noted that poor, rural people in ecologically vulnerable areas in Africa, Asia, and Central American are already being “displaced due to increasing environmental stress.”

He also pointed out that the walls of climate peril marked by wildfires, rising sea levels, and water scarcity are “closing in around” the United States too.

Within the next five decades the “sweet spot” of productive climate areas between the Appalachian and Rocky mountains are expected to shift northward prompting millions of people to migrate. Based on trends elsewhere he predicted that vulnerable populations of older and low-income people left behind in stressed areas will face an array of problems. Meanwhile residents in Northern areas of the U.S. will have to adjust to an influx of people and figure out how to optimize the shift for economic development.

Energy Scientist Explains Decarbonization Efforts & Potential Outcomes  

Piette, the keynote speaker on January 5, began her presentation by saying that LBNL’s research “will not be successful unless we have partners like the BEST Center and community college teachers and others around the country that help to implement what we’re doing.”

She described how aggressive efforts to electrify building systems and use of more clean renewable energy sources could get the nation to net-zero greenhouse energy economy by 2050.

“Modeling shows that we can achieve this technology transition with today’s technologies,” she said, pointing out that investing in efficiencies can reduce the need to expand energy generation and distribution systems.

When talking about the operators of large buildings, who are the focus of BEST’s efforts, Piette shared highlights of a government study of what happened when facility managers had better information systems and fault diagnostics. She reported that the energy savings typically ranged from 3% to 8%. “So they’ve gotten two-year paybacks with this technology,” she said.

BEST Provides Professional Development for Tech Educators

BEST’s mission to help two-year college faculty incorporate emerging technologies and information about policy changes in their lessons was reflected in other institute sessions, which included the following topics:

  • How to use college facilities as living labs for instruction
  • How technicians are implementing the newest guidelines for high-performance buildings
  • Advances in heat pumps, HVAC controls, grid-interactive efficient buildings, connected communities, and residential efficiencies
  • LBNL’s paid internships for students and educators  

BEST leaders encourage two-year college educators to apply now for its summer professional development workshop. Thanks to its ATE grant from the National Science Foundation, stipends are available for educators who attend the in-person workshop in June 2024 in Berkeley, California.

For more information contact BEST Center Director Larry Chang at

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