NREL’s Energy-Efficient Facility Influences Buildings in Seattle, Salt Lake City and NYC

by | Feb 1, 2013

Developers building the 50,000 square-foot Bullitt Center in Seattle, Wash., are trying to build the most energy-efficient commercial building in the world — and seeking inspiration from DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, according to NREL.

The Bullitt Center will generate as much energy from rooftop photovoltaics each year as the six-story structure uses; the catch is that Seattle is notorious for its lack of sunshine.

The building also will collect all of its water, including drinking water, from the rain that falls on its roof — which will then be stored in a 56,000-gallon cistern. Once the water is used inside the building, it will be treated and then returned to the soil.

According to Bullitt Foundation President Denis Hayes, the building faced more legal and financial challenges than technical obstacles. Hayes says it is illegal to build this type of “ultra-green building” in any US city. So Seattle changed the building code.

Also, Hayes says, banks wouldn’t lend the foundation any money.

Hayes visited NREL’s Research Support Facility (pictured), in Golden, Colo. According to NREL, the RSF, completed in late in 2011, is one of the world’s largest high-performance office buildings. The 360,000-square-foot Class A office building generates as much electricity as it uses, thanks to rooftop photovoltaics.

Similarities between the Bullitt Center and the RSF include an emphasis on daylighting. The Center features large, 10-foot-high windows weighing 700 pounds each. They open to provide not only lighting but natural ventilation. The windows will be hooked up to a series of sensors that feed into the building’s control system to tell what the indoor and outdoor temperatures are, how fast the wind is blowing, whether it’s raining, and how much carbon dioxide is in the air, all of which let the building’s “brain” determine whether the windows should be open or closed.

Staffers working next to the window can override the system, but only for 30 minutes at a time to optimize the building’s performance. Every person working in the building will be within 30 feet of an operable window.

Plug load management is something that the Bullitt Center design team took into greater consideration after visiting NREL.

The first tenants of the Bullitt Center will begin moving in next month; the grand opening is scheduled for April 22, Earth Day.

Other buildings across the US are taking notes from NREL.

In Salt Lake City, Architectural Nexus is designing a net-zero municipal office building.  The ratio of closed to open offices is 50-50, which created a challenge because the design team wanted to put the closed offices on the north side of the building.

To solve the dilemma, the design now includes a capped light well in the center of the building so the planners could have two north elevations. The light well is unconditioned space that draws the sun five stories into the building.

Cornell University administrators are also receiving input form NREL as they plan a 12-acre Cornell NYC Tech campus intended to be a living model of sustainable development.

The campus will be built out in several phases, with groundbreaking for the first phase slated for 2014. Part of the first phase will be a four-story, 150,000-square-foot energy-efficient academic facility. On-site renewable energy is being studied to determine the feasibility of making it net-zero energy.

The first academic building will use multiple approaches for achieving energy efficiency, including photovoltaics and geothermal. When complete, Cornell NYC Tech will include approximately 2 million square feet of academic, residential, and corporate research and development space and will house more than 2,000 graduate students along with faculty and staff.


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