Sustainable Design for the 21st Century

NET ZERO CASE STUDY: NREL National Laboratory

by Brent Sauser

NREL 01The DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado recently completed their flagship Net Zero Research Support Facility (RSF). This 360,000 square foot office building was constructed at about $250sf and is certified to a Platinum LEED level. The RSF has won numerous awards for its innovative design and sustainable design features. NREL 03

The RSF building showcases numerous high performance design features, passive energy strategies, and renewable energy technologies. It is a prototype for the future of large scale ultra efficient buildings. NREL documentation states the following:

1.   Building orientation:

The relatively narrow floor plate (60′ wide) enables daylighting and natural ventilation for all occupants. Building orientation and geometry minimizes east and west glazing. North and south glazing is optimally sized and shaded to provide daylighting while minimizing unwanted heat losses and gains.

2. Labyrinth thermal storage:

A labyrinth of massive concrete structures is in the RSF crawl space. The labyrinth stores thermal energy and provides additional capacity for passive heating of the building.

3. Transpired solar collectors:

Outside ventilation air is passively preheated via a transpired solar collector (a technology developed by NREL) on the building’s south facing wall before delivery to the labyrinth and occupied space.

4. Daylighting:

100 percent of the workstations are daylit. Daylight enters the upper portions of the south facing windows and is reflected to the ceiling and deep into the space with light reflecting devices.

5. Triple glazed, operable windows with individual sunshades:

Aggressive window shading is designed to address different orientations and positions of glazed openings. Occupants can open some windows to bring in fresh air and cool the building naturally.

6. Precast concrete insulated panels:

A thermally massive exterior wall assembly using an insulated precast concrete panel system provides significant thermal mass to moderate the building’s internal temperature.

7. Radiant heating and cooling:

Approximately 42 miles of radiant piping runs through all floors of the building, using water as the cooling and heating medium in the majority of workspaces—instead of forced air.

NREL 02Constructing a building of this size to achieve Net Zero is further evidence that the technology exists currently here and now to go Net Zero. At around $250 square foot, going Net Zero does not have to break the budget.

For further information regarding the NREL RSF facility please CLICK HERE.

Photo Credits:

Top photo credit:  Pat Corkery

Middle photo credit: Dennis Schroeder

Bottom photo credit: Dennis Schroeder


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