As the nation’s single largest landlord and energy consumer, the federal government consequently represents the largest opportunity to reduce the nation’s dependence on non-renewable energy sources. The numbers, and thus the opportunity, is significant: According to the National Institute of Building Sciences, the federal government operates more than 3 billion ft² across 500,000 buildings and facilities; historically has spent roughly $30 billion annually on acquiring or substantially renovating its properties; and allocates about $7 billion per year on energy costs.
Setting the standard toward reducing energy usage and outside dependency is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. A new facility at Kennedy Space Center achieves Net-Zero energy use—the ability to power the facility with renewable resources to offset the costs of electricity provided by a local utility. NASA rang in 2011 with the opening of its Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility.
“The facility actually generates more energy than it requires in a 24-hour period,” said Frank Kline, a NASA Construction of Facilities project manager. “And our ability to do that is largely attributed to advanced lighting solutions. Lighting typically consumes nearly 40 percent of a building’s energy so it naturally has a great impact when technology and products are applied appropriately.”
Located in Launch Complex 39 of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Propellants North is NASA’s first carbon-neutral facility. The Net-Zero building produces enough energy onsite from renewable sources to offset what it requires to operate. Photo courtesy of NASA/Frank Michaux.
The new facility is NASA’s first carbon-neutral facility, which means it is engineered to release zero greenhouse gas emissions during renovation or operation. As the new hub for fueling spacecraft that is embarking on outer-space missions, the Propellants North facility simply uses the Earth’s most abundant natural resource to provide power to operate it.
“NASA’s goal going into the project,” Kline said, “was to design and construct a facility that uses as little energy as possible.
“The first step in designing a Net-Zero facility is to construct a building that is as energy efficient as possible. Then look for renewable sources to offset that reduced load. One of the broader energy-saving strategies NASA utilized to reduce the building’s power draw was to maximize the use of natural light, a strategy known as daylighting. The NASA team recycled large windows and frames from the original launch control center to maximize available daylight in the office areas. The team relied on lighting control technology to take advantage of this free daylight and automatically reduce the energy consumed by the artificial lights in the facility.”
The initiative to make this new facility as efficient as possible was driven by Executive Orders 13423 and 13514, which mandate that federal agencies give preference to using energy from renewable sources and environmentally preferable products in new construction and major renovations.
Those connected with this project, such as Kline, who manages building projects for NASA, were confident this project would pave the way for future construction and renovation ventures. Yet the original goal, however, was not necessarily to build a Net-Zero building, but to design the most energy-efficient facility possible. After selecting and implementing many different energy-saving strategies and technologies, the design team realized the facility’s potential to achieve Net-Zero energy use.
Test Bed for Future Buildings
The Propellants North facility gives NASA a valuable test case for future energy efficient buildings and provides data to prove the technologies selected from each vendor actually perform as promised. Outside the buildings, testing began with a “parking lot of the future.” For less than $1.50 per day, an electric or hybrid vehicle can plug into a solar-powered charging canopy. The eight-car station can be used for government or personal vehicles to reduce dependency on petroleum and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
To the left of the administration building is a single-story shop used to store cryogenic fuel transfer equipment. The parking lot houses a solar-powered parking station for alternative fuel vehicles. Photo courtesy of NASA/Frank Michaux.
More than 330 photovoltaic panels on the rooftops of the Propellants North complex harness maximum availability of sunlight and generate more energy than is used by the buildings. Even the position of the buildings on the property aims to maximize the flow of daylight into the windows, thereby decreasing the demand for power needed for lighting the interior.
Water conservation also factored into the design team’s attention to detail. A 7,500-gal rainwater harvesting system supplies water to sanitary fixtures and sprinklers. By incorporating the water reclamation and storage onsite, NASA estimates the system offsets 195,000-gal of treated water with rain water. The system saves taxpayers the costs incurred for the treated water and eliminates the need to pump treated water from more than 25-mi away. This also eliminates emissions associated with water treatment and transportation.
Inside the buildings, the design team wanted to preserve historical features of the previous launch control center. “We have million-dollar views of Launch Pads A and B from this facility,” Kline said. “So we kept the windows from the iconic firing rooms of Kennedy’s Launch Control Center in their original framing.” Advanced lighting controls were needed to manage the vast amount of daylight coming through the facility’s large windows. And since keeping the lights turned on is the single-highest operating expense for a typical office building—exceeding that of even heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems—properly designed and installed lighting control systems would result in substantial energy savings as well.
Innovative Lighting Controls
To validate vendor claims, the design team started analyzing possible lighting-control strategies from multiple vendors. Kline had used lighting controls from different vendors in a small-scale test at the Kennedy Space Center headquarters building. That small-scale test confirmed the systems chosen for this application would perform as planned. First, to prove the systems’ effectiveness, the design team retrofitted new controls and fixtures into a small office and saw a significant reduction in electricity use. Management tested the system and provided feedback; it was easy to use, improved occupant comfort and also achieved notable cost savings.
For the Propellants North facility, the goal was to measurably save as much energy as possible by maximizing the use of daylight and minimizing energy waste. The NASA design team needed a combination of lighting controls in four enclosed office spaces. The walls in the office areas are largely comprised of windows, so the situation called for a wireless lighting control solution with remote operating capabilities.
Finishing touches adorn the second-floor conference room of the Propellants North Facility. The environmentally friendly facility is slated to be NASA's second Platinum-rated building by the USGBC LEED certification system. Photo courtesy of NASA/Frankie Martin.
With direct on-site support from Lutron Electronics, designers selected a fully integrated lighting control system, including several innovative controls and strategies:
- Wireless wall-mounted controls: EcoSystem® wireless controls allow employees who occupy glass-enclosed offices to control lighting levels wirelessly to maximize the use of daylight in interior offices and reduce electricity use.
- Dimming ballasts: To automatically dim lights based on available natural light, the EcoSystem digitally addressable dimming ballasts are automated to work individually or as a group. The ballasts are capable of dimming to less than 10 percent of full power and provide flexibility for employees to dim lights to preferred levels for different tasks. And because of how they are automated, they can easily be reconfigured to different switches, groupings and settings without rewiring.
- Wireless wall control station and keypad: Pico™ Wireless wall-mounted control stations work with Maestro Wireless® technology and Radio Powr Savr® occupancy sensors to allow occupants in the engineering and mechanics work areas to control a specific group of lights. The Pico control uses ClearConnect™ RF technology to ensure seamless communication between system components. A dedicated network means communication between system devices is reliably delivered, and group commands result in a smooth, simultaneous system response.
- Daylight harvesting: Large windows capture sunlight and naturally illuminate the space, allowing EcoSystem daylight sensors to dim or turn off electric lights based on the natural light. In the first few months, daylight harvesting has resulted in a more than 40 percent decrease in energy consumption associated with artificial lighting when compared to similar lighting fixtures without controls.
- Occupancy sensing: EcoSystem infrared occupancy sensors turn lights off when a space is empty and turn lights on when a person enters a space. Because these sensors are used in interior spaces frequently left empty, like restrooms, energy savings is 100 percent when vacant.
A Repeatable Design
The building automation system monitors the facility’s energy use through KW meters installed in the electrical panels throughout the building. The meter associated with the lighting panel has confirmed a significant electricity cost savings from the lighting controls.
The NASA facility is designed to be 52 percent more efficient than a traditional commercial building and qualifies for the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design (LEED) Platinum status—the highest green building certification. The expectation is that Propellants North will be a powerful example for future energy-efficiency projects on an ever-larger scale, both in the private sector, and, perhaps more critically, in the public sector.