How can a building consume NO energy?

Office buildings are responsible for 19% of all commercial energy consumption in the United States, using almost one quadrillion (that’s a one followed by 15 zeros, folks) BTU per year.  I would convert that to dollars, but then this blog post would get entirely to big…  What if your building could consume ZERO BTU per year?  A Net Zero energy building consumes no net energy over the course of a year.  In other words, it sometimes consumes energy and sometimes generates energy, such that the net result balances out to zero.  Setpoint Systems was fortunate enough to be involved in constructing the largest Net Zero energy building in the world, which is the Research Support Facility (RSF) at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

Research Support Facility (RSF)

Research Support Facility (RSF)

When the building was being designed, NREL initially requested that it consume only 25,000 BTU/ft² annually (this was an aggressive target as the average commercial office building in the U.S. consumes 97,200 BTU/ft²).  The team instead delivered a building which can produce as much energy as it uses–a net zero design.  How is this possible?  There are far too many details to cover here, but these are some of the techniques used:

  • Architecure allows for passive heating and cooling
  • Integrated high-efficiency lighting system with daylight and occupancy controls
  • Radiant thermal slabs for heating and cooling
  • Free cooling and heat recovery used in the building’s data center
  • Automatic windows for natural ventilation and nighttime pre-cooling
  • Demand control ventilation in open offices and conference rooms
  • 1.67 MW of photo-voltaic panels on the roof and associated parking structures
  • Fully integrated monitoring and control of HVAC, electrical, and data center systems

You may or may not be able to make your building net zero, but Setpoint Systems can use some of the same innovative integration and programming techniques from this project to help you save energy and money.   We can also provide ongoing high-quality training for you and your staff to help you maintain and operate your systems more efficiently.  For example, the staff at NREL have attended 94 of our training sessions for a total of 1,320 hours of instruction.  The value of this training would be nearly $40,000, but Setpoint Systems provides these classes FREE for the life of the customers’ system.
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