FACILITY OF THE MONTH: Gov. Brown Calls ZNE Center ‘The Future’

SAN LEANDRO, Calif. — The grand opening of the Zero Net Energy (ZNE) Center in San Leandro made history on May 30, as the facility became the first commercial building retrofit designed to meet the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) requirements for a zero net energy building.

Several industry leaders, including California Governor Jerry Brown, spoke on the importance of the 46,000-square-foot facility and what it means for the future of green building. Both California State Senate Majority Leader Ellen Corbett and Executive Director of the Northern California USGBC Dan Geiger referenced The Jetsons television show to describe the building’s future-is-now, innovative approach to energy efficiency.

“The electrical union saw that the future of their business was in sustainability and energy efficiency and they wanted to have a space where they can train their journeymen in the same direction that the industry was headed,” said Ryan Potvin, principal with Environmental Building Strategies, which offered green building services on the project. “Net zero was the clear choice, so they wanted to be at the forefront of that.”

Using advanced building designs created by Danville, Calif.-based FCGA Architects, the ZNE Center is able to achieve a 29 percent energy use reduction compared to new commercial construction in California and a 75 percent reduction in energy use when compared to similar existing commercial buildings in the U.S. Plus, it lowers the center’s carbon footprint by 175 tons of CO2 each year. San Francisco-based NOVO Construction served as the construction manager.

Built in 1982, the building shell remains intact, while energy efficient technologies in wind, solar, solar thermal, lighting and building automation systems allow the center to now reach zero net energy. The eye-catching solar panels, located on the roof, and the wind turbines at the entrance highlight the building’s accomplishment in sustainability. As part of the interior, the concrete walls and floors are heated through rooftop monitors and windows, creating a thermal mass effect and energy storage.

The building serves as an educational facility for 2,000 electrical workers, who will receive training from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 595 and the Northern California Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA). The building’s net zero features are incorporated into the curriculum for the trainings that will take place at the center.

“It was great that the net zero components actually increase productivity of the learning of the students,” Potvin said. “The fact that those correlated and tied together is pretty fascinating and we got a great result.”

Being the first net zero retrofit, the project team had to work collaboratively to figure out the best energy use scenarios as well as the best products for the best price.

“In the beginning, we focused on lighting and HVAC reduction, but those pieces are a small part. The greatest challenge was understanding when the space is going to be used and how it’s going to be used,” Potvin said. “Some rooms are only classrooms while others are a lot busier. Creating energy use in different rooms was a challenge.”

Another challenge was figuring out the pricing, said Drew Radachy, director of science and technology for Novo Construction. “Taking all of these technologies and design concepts and accurately costing them out to fit the energy model and the overall financial model of the building. We did a significant structural upgrade to the building itself to accommodate the roof monitors, so it was taking all of those pieces and making them fit in this existing footprint,” he said.

Not only does the ZNE Center meet the DOE’s requirements for zero net energy, it also exceeds the State of California’s 2030 energy efficiency effort by meeting the zero net goal 17 years ahead of schedule. It also exceeds the energy conservation goals of the Obama administration’s Better Buildings Challenge.

In this podcast, Gov. Brown speaks about the center and the goals for the future of sustainability in California and the U.S. as a whole.

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