The Zero Energy Challenge: NREL’s New Research Support Facility
Scheduled for completion in summer 2010, the National Renewable Energy Lab’s (NREL) Research Support Facility (RSF) is a 222,000 sq. ft. office building that is being designed at the LEED® Platinum level and as a Net Zero Energy building. This high-performance building will house more than 800 people and a data center that stores and manages oceans of information. The engineers and scientists from NREL’s Building Technology Program have devised strategies to help keep the energy used at no more than the targeted 250 watts per person. Smart use of information technology will contribute towards this goal. Strategies include:
- Employees will be encouraged to switch to laptops, which only average about 35 watts – about one-third the average wattage of desktops.
- Only LCD monitors will used at the facility, and many of them will be the more energy-efficient LED-backlight.
- One or two all-in-one devices that fax, scan, print, e-mail and copy in one unit will be placed in each wing of the building, in contrast to the current situation, which is 600 printers for 1,800 employees, plus hundreds of other devices to scan, fax and copy.
- Phone calls will be made via the VoIP system, which uses less energy and provides more functionality.
- Motion-detector or similar smart power strips that will sense when someone isn’t in the office, and then switch off the devices that aren’t needed, will be employed.
The most formidable challenge will be achieving net-zero energy in a building that has a large data center. The RSF will employ several strategies to reduce the energy needs of the data center, including some that take advantage of Colorado’s climate, to minimize the amount of cooling required.
- A maze-like structure of concrete has been constructed underneath the building to store cool air during summer nights and warm air during winter days. Cold high-altitude air captured at night will remain in the structure during the warm hours the following day, and during the winter, the hot air from the data center will be dumped into the labyrinth to heat the building. Efficient evaporative chillers, running cold water over pads, will cool the data center servers when needed. This will replace the need for the data center chillers to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
- The data center will also employ blade servers, which are smaller than traditional rackmount servers; 16 blade servers fit in a single blade chassis, sharing power supplies, cooling fans, and circuit boards.
- Virtualization is also a big energy saver. Any virtualized server can be easily moved from one physical system to another without impacting services. Underutilized servers can be moved and their physical server can be put to sleep until it is needed.
“Technology continues to provide us with the tools we need to make IT energy efficient,” said Craig Robben, Information Technology project manager for the RSF. “The RSF will demonstrate how using these methods, standards and tools in an office environment can help a building reach net-zero.”