ConstructionPro Week, Volume: Construction Advisor Today - Issue: 131 - 10/28/2011

Intelligent Software Planned for the ‘Greenest Building’ in the Federal Government

Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffet Field, Calif., are planning to install intelligent system software in a new structure that is expected to become the greenest, highest-peforming building in the federal government. Collaborating with Ames is the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL).


Originally developed for aerospace applications, NASA intelligent system software will be installed in the building, called Sustainability Base. These NASA-developed control and Integrated Systems Health Management technologies are expected to play an integral role in the building. To help integrate these “smart system” technologies, LBNL's Building Technologies Department developed a building information model to serve as the repository for the building’s systems information during its life cycle. Using data from the model, LBNL developed an energy-performance simulation model to optimize the building’s energy operations.


“This collaboration represents the first of many research partnerships for Sustainability Base that will bring NASA technologies down to Earth and connect them with capabilities from other federal laboratories and the private sector to leverage taxpayer investment and improve the quality of life for everyone,” said Steven Zornetzer, associate center director at NASA Ames.


Designed as a “closed-loop” sustainable building, Sustainability Base uses repurposed NASA technologies to conserve energy and reduce water consumption as well as regional natural resources such as natural lighting and the captured, cooler temperatures of the night air.

LBNL stated that because it has extensive expertise in building technologies, systems, tools, and processes, it can help NASA Ames monitor the building’s performance for maximum efficiency and make suggestions for potential performance improvements. In addition, LBNL will provide advice regarding the new building’s overall performance assessment.


Both NASA and the DOE are expected to benefit from this collaboration. DOE’s national laboratory will further develop modeling techniques for the EnergyPlus simulation engine. By installing additional sensors in Sustainability Base, the EnergyPlus model will have access to a richer data set for better calibration and validation, DOE stated. “At the same time, Ames will receive better insight into the building’s performance. This collaboration also will facilitate the collection and analysis of building-performance data that can be used for construction of future energy-efficient office buildings.


“Ames also will benefit by gaining experience in innovative building-control systems and building models that can be applied to future space habitat systems. This experience may enable crew autonomy; advance simulations of future space habitat systems; and enhance the design, development, and testing of the control and ISHM systems for those habitats.”


Ames Official Provides Additional Details to GBI

In an email interview with Green Building Insider, Zornetzer provided the following additional information:


GBI: Has the building actually opened yet? 


Zornetzer: The building has been commissioned and is complete. Occupancy is planned for late November early December.

GBI: What information can you provide about the building in terms of its cost/expected cost, square footage, number of occupants who can be accommodated, what it will be used for, and where it will be located? 

Zornetzer: Sustainability Base (SB), located at NASA’s Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif., is a 50,000-square-foot building designed to house 210 NASA employees. This award-winning building is designed to meet LEED Platinum certification. Construction costs were about $24.5 million. Three groups of NASA employees will occupy the building: the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) science team, the earth sciences climate modeling and simulation group, and a component of our financial management and budget analysis team.  


GBI: Project officials believe this will be the ‘greenest,’ highest-performing building in the federal government. What green features will separate this facility from the next-greenest facility, which arguably is DOE's Research Support Facility near Golden, Colo.? 

Zornetzer: The NASA team behind the SB project has worked closely with their counterparts at DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). NREL, like NASA Ames, has each completed an extremely high-performance building. Though different in a number of respects, both building projects selected designs and building systems optimized for their particular locations and climates. There are many specific features that differ on the two projects. SB uses a large geothermal well field and associated heat exchangers and ceiling-mounted cooling panels to cool the building. NREL uses different energy-efficient approaches to cooling. SB is projected to have a net positive energy profile while the NREL facility does not. 


GBI: What statistics, if any, can you provide about how much energy the building either uses or will use and/or how much energy a non-green building of a comparable size and surrounding climate typically uses? In other words, can you quantify the expected energy savings? 

Zornetzer: We will not know for certain how much energy SB will use over the course of a year since we are just about to occupy the building. However, our models and projections indicate that the building will use somewhere between 40-70 percent less energy than a comparable-sized conventional building. Contributing to the energy efficiency of SB are a number of elements: high-performance building envelope; active shading elements; a highly reflective roof; operable windows to utilize natural ventilation and cooling; a geothermal cooling system; high-efficiency lighting; active internal shades; [and] an integrated building control system to optimize energy efficiency. Certainly, when compared to the older buildings located on our Ames campus, SB will use significantly less energy. The roof of SB is covered with an extensive photovoltaic array, which will produce between 50-60 percent of the electrical energy consumed by the building. Co-located with the building is a solid oxide hydrogen fuel cell that produces over twice the amount of clean electrical energy that the building will use. Combined, these two sources of clean electrical energy will produce much more energy than the building consumes. This additional net positive energy will flow into our local Ames electrical grid and result in a net positive energy profile for SB. Additionally, SB will use about 90 percent less potable water than a comparably sized conventional building. This is achieved through the on-site water purification of building hygiene water for reuse for toilet and urinal flushing, high-efficiency plumbing fixtures throughout the building, [and] use of reclaimed water for landscape irrigation.


GBI: What is the status of having the building certified as green? When may it be certified? 


Zornetzer: An independent auditor is in the process of certifying the building now. We fully expect to receive LEED Platinum certification from [the U.S. Green Building Council] within the near future. 


GBI: Other comments?


Zornetzer: SB has received a number of awards in the past year. These include: Government Services Agency 2010 Real Property Innovation Award; San Jose Business Journal’s 2010 Structures Award for Green Project of the Year; The White House 2011 GreenGov Award (along with three other LEED Platinum NASA buildings) in the category ‘Lean Green and Mean’; and the 2011 Engineering News Record Best Green Building Award for California.




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