Following is a ‘guest post’ packed with info by Brent Hardy – http://www.extraspace.com/ – writing about taking an office building ‘off the grid’.

Black Sheep

Twenty years ago, the thought of an office building without a monthly power bill would have seemed like a dream. Even in reality, it seems a bit like science fiction.

In Australia, commercial buildings contribute 12% of greenhouse gas emissions, and unfortunately, cost has long been the biggest barrier to making these buildings more energy efficient (http://www.prres.net/papers/Wilkinson_Office_buildings_and_the_environment.pdf). But sustainable energy sources, advancements in technology, and more intelligent building design are making it easier and less expensive to take office buildings off of the grid. Net-zero energy consumption is gaining popularity, and offices– both new and existing – are being outfitted to not only reduce the amount of energy that they consume, but to also produce their own energy. If the buildings consume more than they create, they tap into the electrical grid. If they produce more than they consume, they contribute the excess back to the grid. The benefits are tremendous and affect not only the pocketbook, but the carbon footprint.

So how do you take an office building off the grid? Following are key aspects of creating net-zero energy office building.

Alternative Energy Sources

Office buildings have long been known for consuming energy, but net zero office buildings are known more for generating energy or using alternative energy sources. While solar energy is the most common source used to power buildings, thermal energy use is also on the rise.

  • Solar Power: Solar power in zero energy buildings is derived from solar arrays often found on either on the roof or in a nearby field. Not only is the energy used to power the lighting and appliances in the building, but it also warms the water supplied by the water heater. Australia has higher average solar radiation per square meter than any other continent in the world, making this a premium source for sustainable energy.

  • Geothermal Systems: Geothermal systems draw thermal energy from deep within the Earth, and this energy can then be used for heating and cooling. Compared to other fossil fuels, thermal energy is very clean and produces only a small amount of emissions and no nitrogen oxides. Tapping into this energy requires drilling into a geothermal reservoir, but Australia is rich with deposits.
  • Net Zero Energy Design

    Net zero energy design is facilitated through open floor plan that reduces hot and cold pockets. Additional attributes that lend themselves to energy efficient buildings include:

    • Lots of Windows: Energy-efficient offices utilize windows to provide natural light and reduce the reliance on artificial lighting sources. Low-emittance coatings are often used on the windows to minimize energy consumption on the inside, regardless of the hot or cold that is being felt on the outside.

  • Thicker Walls: Thicker walls allow for more insulation, which functions like a sweater for the building. It allows the hearing and cooling systems inside to operate efficiently, and prevents the outside temperatures from affecting the temperatures inside.
  • Heating and Cooling Alternatives: Advanced systems heating and cooling are used to control the temperatures inside the building. One example is radiant heating, which works almost like the eye of a stove, providing heat directly to the floor. This type of heating can be run off of solar power, making it even more attractive when it comes to net-zero energy.
  • Efficient Equipment and Appliances

    Net zero energy consumption isn’t just about creating enough energy to power an office building, but using less. Computers and monitors account for 85-90% of office equipment energy costs, so make sure that your team is using energy efficient equipment (http://www.gbca.org.au/resources/green-buildings-for-tenants/energy-and-lighting/2993.htm). Break rooms and kitchens offer opportunities to conserve energy, and it is important to purchase appliances, such as refrigerators, microwaves, and coffee makers, that are energy efficient and sport an Energy Rating Label that boasts six stars or more. For additional information on energy ratings, as well as a comparison of appliances, visit the Equipment Energy Efficiency Program (E3) website.

    Conscientious Consumers

    While building design and technology enable net zero buildings, the employees who consume the energy must focus on using less energy. This includes turning off lights when not in the room, turning off computers when not in use rather than allowing them to stand by, and keeping doors and windows closed.

    Net zero energy in office buildings is growing in popularity both in Australia and around the world. The largest net-zero office building in the United States is currently under construction in La Jolla, California, and, upon completion, it will boast upon completion 415,000 square feet and 13 stories. Climate change and other environmental impacts have energized the debate about energy consumption, and smarter building design, advanced technology, and sustainable energy sources are making it easier than ever to take the office building completely off the grid.

    Brent Hardy is the driving force for Extra Space Storage corporate responsibility through energy management and sustainability programs at www.extraspace.com. Brent leads a conversation about sustainability at blog.extraspace.com/category/sustainability.

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