The Los Angeles Harbor College Science Complex will take a holistic approach to campus energy production. Targeted for LEED v2.2 platinum, the three-story building will house the college’s physical-science and life-science departments.

An Energy Approach for Education Institutions

Sept. 1, 2013

Schools and universities that want to achieve net-zero energy design need to do many things, not just a couple big things. It takes a comprehensive and thorough approach. Much focus has been placed on energy conservation and efficiency to lower energy usage. To achieve net-zero energy, the dialogue needs to shift to energy production. 

For colleges and universities, a real opportunity exists to achieve campuswide cost savings. Campuses looking for energy and cost savings also are looking at energy production through an integrated strategy—part of zero-plus principles—that encourages people to give back rather than just consume less.

Energy strategies

Education campuses can be a perfect testing ground for zero-plus energy strategies because they often are incubators for research, innovation and new technology that feed into the educational process. A successful zero-plus energy approach begins by looking at five key points within the zero-plus principles:

Energy: Make more than what is consumed.

Carbon: Clean the air.

Water: Renew water resources with a sustainable water plan.

Waste: All materials are a resource with construction waste diversion.

Materials: Eliminate toxins and use biomimicry principles.

A successful zero-plus energy plan requires energy-use reduction through conservation and efficiency, reclamation, production, and passive and active strategies all working together. 

Managing size

Scale is an important consideration when planning campus work. Four applicable scales are community, campus, building and individual. Each approach is evaluated at the appropriate scale. 

For example, energy conservation happens mostly at the individual and building scale; on-site energy production is considered at the building and campus scales. Even if every surface of a building were used (walls and roof), it is unlikely that all building types could generate the electricity needed if all those surfaces were covered with solar panels to generate electricity. So, on-site energy production in a campus setting involves designating areas on the campus for onsite energy production using wind, solar power, and sustainable heating and cooling.

For any education institution seeking net-zero energy, central plants are a significant part of a comprehensive campus energy plan. From high-efficiency heating and cooling equipment to ground-source heat-pump systems, wind turbines, photovoltaic solar panels and biomass generators, the most effective plans integrate new technologies with time-tested strategies.

Putting into practice

Several recent academic projects represent new approaches to achieving a net-zero energy campus. Each project is putting energy efficiency on display and demonstrating how net-zero energy is integral to daily campus life:

University of Minnesota—Morris, Biomass Research and Demonstration Facility. At the University of Minnesota—Morris, a biomass generator serves the campus energy needs in combination with an existing energy plant and a series of wind turbines.

Designed as an integrated addition to an existing energy plant, the biomass facility represents the university system’s foray into sustainable fuel sourcing. Capitalizing on the surrounding agrarian economy, the system processes local bio-waste (primarily in the form of corn stover) for fuel consumption. The biomass plant is composed of a fuel handling, processing and gasification reactor, and a more conventional boiler plant that feeds into the existing campus system. The plant essentially converts corn stalks and other residual materials into a syngas (similar to natural gas) that can be burned to produce clean energy to generate heat and cooling for the campus. The integrated energy plant improves the campus’s overall reliability in both the steam and chilled-water systems. 

Because this is both an energy plant and a student demonstration facility in renewable-energy resources, much of the mechanical infrastructure is visible through metal screening and wood slats.

The facility meets about 80 percent of the campus demand for heat, using up to 9,000 tons of corn stover each year for fuel. This keeps about $500,000 in the local economy and reduces greenhouse-gas emissions associated with heating the campus by about 9,000 tons per year. Together with wind turbines and a small back-pressure steam turbine fueled from the gasification system, the campus has the potential to produce more energy than it consumes. 

Other campuses across the country also are taking advantage of the opportunity to sell the renewable energy credits or carbon credits.

Los Angeles Harbor College, Science Complex. The new complex takes a holistic approach to campus energy production. Targeted for LEED v2.2 platinum, the 73,767-square-foot, three-story building houses the college’s physical-science and life-science departments.

The Science Complex essentially puts science on display. Natural ventilation, abundant daylight, connection to the outdoors and innovative technology help lessen the energy loads. The building includes a canopy of solar photovoltaic panels integrated with the building systems and campus PV system. Additionally, the building itself responds to changing weather conditions through integrated building systems. When outside air is ideal for natural ventilation, green lights indicate to users they can open the windows. The ventilation system knows the windows are open and responds accordingly to reduce energy use. 

Similarly, advanced daylighting controls monitor indoor lighting. The controls adjust lighting levels at individual lamps to make the best use of natural light. Combined, these building systems offer the potential to achieve net-zero energy.

The Science Complex expects to use about 43 percent less energy than baseline models and produce about 26 percent of its own electricity from the building-mounted solar panels.

The College of the Desert’s Palm Springs, Calif., campus will create renewable energy through on-site photovoltaic panels for electricity production.

College of the Desert, West Valley Campus, Palm Springs, Calif. The college envisions a self-sustaining campus that produces more energy than it consumes through a master plan that emphasizes energy production along with conservation and energy efficiency. 

Situated about a half-hour drive from the existing Palm Desert campus, the 59-acre, multiphase campus addresses the desert’s sun, wind and shade with facades that minimize heat gain, energy-efficient mechanical systems, photovoltaic solar panels, storm-water reservoirs for evaporative cooling, shading and daylighting techniques, and wind protection. 

In all, the plan essentially creates renewable energy through its on-site photovoltaic solar panels for electricity production while using significantly less energy than existing buildings in the area. 

The College of the Desert puts science and energy production on display, serving as an organic classroom that supports the college’s four educational “pillars” in partnership with local businesses—hospitality and tourism, media and the arts, allied health and sustainability technology. 

Thibaudeau, CSI, CCS, LEED AP BD+C, is vice president of sustainable design for HGA Architects and Engineers, Minneapolis. Matson, AIA, is vice president and principal in the firm’s Los Angeles office, where he specializes in higher-education master planning and design.

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