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US Government Leads Race to Zero Energy Buildings

July 8, 2010

(As Posted to CleanTechies 7/8/10) The Department of Energy has just completed the nation’s largest Net-Zero Energy Building.  The 220,000 SF Research Support Facility (RSF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado will hold 800 employees when it officially opens in August along with its Net-Zero and LEED Platinum status.

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Achieving the essence of a Net-Zero building the RSF will produce as much energy as is consumed by the building.  This was done through an integrated design approach led by passive design strategies which targeted a 25,000 BTUs/SF/year energy budget, about 50% less than a typical office.  Natural day lighting and ventilation along with a 3-layer pre-cast exterior wall system serving as a thermal mass lead the conservation strategies.  Other methods include radiant floor heating/cooling, electrochromicwindows on the West façade which change tint in direct sunlight to keep afternoon sun’s heat out and a wall integrated transpired air collector which feeds a basement labyrinth to store air for heating and cooling, depending on the season.  The RSF building will then supplement the remaining energy demand with renewable energy, coming from a large solar array on the roof.

IT systems and plug loads were also a serious consideration when setting the energy budget for the occupants, about 250W/person.  This reduction from the typical modern office was achieved through various technology and conservation strategies.  Employees are encouraged to use laptops over desktops and required to have LCD screens, with plans for Organic LED (OLED) screens in the future.  The data center will employ innovative cooling techniques bringing cold air in at night through a large vent on the north facade.  Other conservation methods include motion detector power strips to shut down task lights or other non-essential equipment when not in use, shared all in one printer fax scanner units and Voice-Over IP telephones rather than freestanding phone systems.

Sustainable materials were also incorporated.  The main lobby features a beautiful art wall application of regional pine wood that had been killed by the black bark beetle.  Since the infestation began in the mid-1990s about 2.3 million acres of pine forests have been destroyed and now serve as a wild fire threat.  This isn’t the first time NREL has used the beetle-killed pine, in 2008 a Renewable Fuel Heat Plant was brought online to supplement the winter natural gas heating on their campus.  The facility burns the beetle-killed wood and wood from other forest –thinning operations.

The building also boasts a sustainable landscape serving as a pilot for the SITES rating system, a partnership with many organizations including the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA).  Landscaping includes different native plant palettes for the North and South side, recycled stone retaining walls and a smart irrigation controller incorporating weather patterns when deciding when to irrigate.

The Department of Energy left nothing out of this showcase building.  Designed and built in partnership with RNL and Haselden Construction it will serve as a model for all future office buildings and exemplifies the federal government’s commitment to Net-Zero Energy Buildings.  Learn more in this NREL video.

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