Improving green design by monitoring

Often "green buildings" are developed and publicized, but then actual energy functioning is not reported, sometimes because performance is less than anticipated. Having inhabited its new green headquarters for the first year, The Woods Hole Research Center is addressing those issues by tracking, and making publicly available, information on the performance of its building.

Because the Research Center's Ordway Campus incorporates so many different efficiency and renewable (clean) energy collection strategies, center staff decided to display the energy flows through the building in a series of Web pages designed to provide a full overview of the building's energy performance. This near-real time display collects and synthesizes data from over 70 different sensors which measure flows of electricity, heat and fluids (air and water) into and out of the building as well as the site's local environmental conditions. These pages provide information and data to interested members of the public as well as other organizations and institutions considering innovations like these for their own facilities.

According to Joe Hackler, a research associate at the Center, "Engineering is, by nature, conservative -- and if large gains are to be made in the efficient design and specification of mechanical systems to support very efficient building design and operation, the engineering community needs real performance data to support their efforts. The 'public face' of the monitoring system is designed to encourage any one to come in and explore how energy flows through a building of advanced design such as this one."

By using the facility as an example, and providing real-time data, the Center's experience can become a model for others to evaluate and emulate. In designing the project, the Center chose to use commercially available equipment and technologies to demonstrate that large gains in efficiency are easily made with good design and good construction practice.

In its first year, the Woods Hole Research Center facility has performed near expectations. Even with a facility that is nearly twice the size of the Center's previous combined offices and labs, the Center is using less total energy and spending less money on energy while reducing emissions attributable to operations to 28 percent of its previous total (a surprising 13 percent of the national office average for a building of the same size). Total energy usage was 89,669 kWh, with 30,469 kWh being generated onsite by a photovoltaic (PV) system, indicating that 34 percent of the facility's total energy requirement was provided by its own PV system.

While the building performs to a very high standard, the process of monitoring the facilities actual performance has uncovered some energy use inefficiencies. In addition, an overheating computer room located on the ground floor in a space not easily vented; electrical usage that cannot yet be attributed to a specific source; and higher than expected pumping costs are issues being evaluated. When remedied, the solutions will lead to continued improvements in overall performance.

View the green building performance overview here: http://www.whrc.org/building/education/performance.htm.

This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2005 issue of Environmental Protection.

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