US homes, schools and hospitals could be zero energy in the future

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The Independent Online

A recently completed 222,000 square foot (20,624 square meter) zero energy building constructed in the US state of Colorado using standard design materials hopes to show the future of design and encourage other institutions to follow suit.



The new National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) completed on June 10 in Golden, Colorado, is the first zero energy building of this scale in the United States.  

The zero energy building produces as much energy as it consumes by using Transpired Solar Collector technology developed by NREL and for which the firm won an award in 1994. The outside ventilated air is passively preheated via solar collectors on the south of the building, before being sent to a massive underground structure called the Labyrinth which stores thermal energy.

Though the structure functions automatically, optimizing performance while minimizing energy use, any power consumption averaging more than 250 watts per person would ruin the equilibrium of the building. Therefore employees use energy-saving equipment such as specialized laptop computers and elevators which regenerate their own power.

Mr. Baker, Director of Laboratory Operations for the U.S. Department of Energy in Colorado, stated that the major goal of the building is to demonstrate that zero energy buildings can be constructed anywhere. The building, which is 100 percent day-lit uses standard design materials such as concrete and glass, but was designed with energy, not architecture as the focal point. 

Mr. Baker said, "over the last few months a number of people from both the public and private sector have come and seen what we have done, the technology could easily be applied to schools and hospitals and we hope to show them that it is possible."

China constructed what is thought to be the world's largest solar-powered office building earlier this year, however though the 807,000 square foot (75,000 square meter) construction in Shangdong Province will only use 30 percent of the average energy consumption, it is not zero energy.

It is expected that the NREL building will be occupied by around 800 employees once it is officially open in August.