The Department of Energy is upping the ante on its push to make the nation's buildings more energy efficient, with $454 million in funding for innovative programs that can be used as nationwide models for energy efficiency retrofits.

The "Retrofit Ramp-Up" program announced Monday will open up to $390 million to applicants that can show their neighborhood-scale projects can save big on building energy use and be replicated across the country.

Winning applicants will "demonstrate a sustainable business model for providing cost-effective energy upgrades for a large percentage of the residential, commercial, and public buildings in a specific community," Monday's announcement stated. 

Possible approaches could include public-private sector partnerships, "utility retrofit and audit programs, alternative financing, retail partnerships, and others," the announcement stated. The program is seeking public comment until Sept. 28.

The money comes from the DOE's $3.2 billion Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant (EECBG) program created by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, the stimulus package passed in February (see Obama Signs Stimulus Package).

So far, the DOE has given out about $323 million in about 530 grants (see a full list here).

As part of Monday's announcement, the DOE will make another $64 million available for local government that weren't previously eligible for those grants.

The Retrofit Ramp-Up program isn't the only source of DOE funding for building energy efficiency. In June, it announced it would give out $346 million in stimulus funding for programs including advanced building systems research, energy efficiency retrofit job training and its "Net Zero Energy Commercial Buildings Initiative" aimed at making buildings that use efficiency and on-site power generation to reduce their draw on the power grid to nothing (see Green Light post).

Buildings are a particular focus of Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who has cited them as not " just low-hanging fruit; it's fruit lying on the ground" as far as an opportunity to quickly and cost-effectively reduce the country's energy consumption.

Buildings use about 40 percent of the energy consumed in the country today, and Chu has said he'd like to see that energy use scaled back by about 30 percent through energy efficiency retrofits, better building design and new building automation software and systems (see Making Building Automation Brainier).

The DOE has also inked a partnership with China's Ministry of Urban-Rural Development to research, among other things, better building energy efficiency technology (see DOE, China to Research Greener Buildings, Vehicles, Energy).

Learn how to differentiate your company through greener product lines at Greening the Supply Chain on September 17 in Boston.