NREL’s New Net-Zero-Energy Research Building Will Generate As Much Power As It Consumes In A Year
The National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) is part of the Department of Energy (DOE) and is the only federal laboratory dedicated to developing, commercializing and deploying renewable energy. And to make that point, NREL is putting the the finishing touches on it’s own facility which will be the largest zero-energy office building in the nation. Built by Haselden Construction on schedule for the opening in August, the 220,000 square-foot facility will be home to the Research Support Facility (RSF) and it’s 800 plus employees in Golden, Colorado.
To create a structure that consumes no more energy than it produces in a year, the engineers behind the office complex took into account both the technologies of the future and the building practices of the past. Before the age of electric lighting and climate control, architects situated and designed buildings to take advantage of natural light, with lots of windows that also provided ventilation. Designed with two long narrow wings of office space positioned along an east-west axis to catch maximum light and with only a 60-foot width allows lots of natural daylight to illuminate interior spaces of the RSF. That centuries-old building practice is coupled with smart technology that constantly compares interior and exterior temperatures, and even sends messages to occupants’ computer screens when its time to open or close the windows for optimum natural light and climate control. Traditional passive heating and cooling techniques are enhanced by radiant heating/cooling systems that uses water pipes embedded in the floor to circulate either hot or cold water rather than forced air systems. Black painted corrugated metal panels on south-facing walls funnel heat to an underground maze, or labyrinth, for use as winter heating.
The building is also built largely of recycled or reclaimed materials, from wood panels derived from pines that died of bark beetle infestation, to steel natural gas pipeline used as structural supports. The exterior is designed to absorb heat from the sun that can then either contain the heat during the day during warmer months or release it into the building during cooler months. The interior climate is further controlled using an radiant system .
It has solar on building roofs, a visitor parking lot and a parking garage, wind from its National Wind Technology Center. NREL’s RSF will also reportedly enter into power purchase agreements from renewable energy sources as needed.
The building cost almost $280 a square foot unfinished, whereas a typical office tower in Denver costs about $140 per square foot to design and build. But NREL says its building meets federal guideline for government construction costs – federal buildings generally cost more because of added safety and security requirements – and is, in fact, no more expensive than a standard government office building that has fewer energy-efficiency features.
The DOE expects to get a Platinum LEED (the highest LEED rating, followed by Gold and Silver) from the U.S. Green Building Council, which authorizes the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design awards. The DOE is also hoping that the building will serve as a example for energy-efficient design to other building developers, and plans to share blueprints with interested parties via its web site, for free, starting this fall.
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