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NREL's High-Performance Campus

How off-the-shelf strategies earned the lab six LEED Platinum certifications


How off-the-shelf strategies earned the lab six LEED Platinum certifications.

Six LEED Platinum Buildings on NREL’s South Table Mountain campus serve as models for how to construct commercial buildings.

As the primary proving ground for energy efficiency in the U.S., the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) strives to develop new technologies to save energy. But for their campus in Golden, CO, they relied on tried and tested technology.

NREL wanted its buildings to serve as models for how to create sustainable buildings and campuses, so they stuck to widely available materials and design methods.

“These buildings are highly replicable,” says Shanti Pless, senior energy efficiency research engineer for NREL. “A project developer can take what we’ve done here and apply it in the marketplace. It performs as promised and is cost-effective, maintainable, and marketable.”

The newest addition to the campus is the Energy Systems Integration Facility, the only lab in the U.S. focused on utility-scale clean energy grid integration. Hosting roughly 200 researchers and support staff, the 182,500-square-foot building draws in natural light with 15-foot-long skylights and enough clerestory glazing to shut off electrical lights between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. every day. Its high-performance computing (HPC) data center uses a warm-water cooling system to achieve a power usage effectiveness rating of 1.06 or better, significantly lower than the typical rating of approximately 1.80. The data center’s waste heat is used to heat high bay labs.

The employee eatery, the NREL Cafe, sources food locally, and its commercial-grade kitchen employs water conservation efforts. The campus also adheres to comprehensive recycling and composting programs. Other green features include extensive use of native and xeriscape vegetation, building materials that incorporate recycled content, and stormwater recycling strategies.