Solar Charging Electric Vehicles at NREL Colorado

NREL Net Zero Building

NREL Net Zero Building

By John Addison (7/11/12)


Sunlight dances on the roof of the world’s largest net zero building. At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s (NREL) headquarters in the foothills of the Colorado Rocky Mountains, 1,325 people work in a building that generates as much energy as it is consumed.

A vast parking structure is covered with solar power. The parking structure includes 36 electric vehicle charge stations that charge with solar energy. Currently 8 employees use the Level 2 chargers for their own electric cars. In addition at any given time a number of other electric cars are being charged. Cars have included the Nissan LEAF, Chevrolet Volt, the Ford Transit Connect Electric, and the Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid. The added electric vehicles include cars on loan from automakers for research and testing and cars of visitors.

For 2 years, I have followed in NREL’s progress with their net zero (also referred to as zero-energy) building and solar electric vehicle charging infrastructure. At the 2012 Intersolar Conference, I talked with NREL’s Joe Verrengia who described the building.

NREL Solar InstalledThe headquarters building, official known as the Research Support Facility, is LEED Platinum, but deserves a new category. It is remarkable that this building of 360,000 square feet produces as much energy annually as it consumes. Mr. Verrengia stated, “These (building) costs are very comparable to average new commercial construction in the Denver market that is not LEED Platinum. So we did not pay more for being green.”2.5 MW of solar PV covering the building’s roof and the parking structure provides energy. Solar generates enough power to charge a growing number of electric vehicles. The parking structure is pre-wired to support 100 electric vehicle charging stations.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a key research arm of DOE, researches energy efficiency, efficient transportation, water efficiency, renewable energy, and sustainability. NREL is a national laboratory that practices what it preaches.  The headquarters building is so energy-efficient that no central HVAC is required. With 1-foot thick walls of concrete, dense foam insulation, and aggregate panels, the building is warm in the Rocky Mountain winter and cool in the summer. The researchers make maximum use of natural daylight. With a network of LED lights and sensors , the system turns off lights when no one is present and turns off all lights at night.

NREL DaylightingThe 60-foot wide floor plate enables daylighting and natural ventilation for all occupants. Building orientation and geometry minimizes east and west glazing. North and south glazing is optimally sized and shaded to provide daylighting while minimizing unwanted heat losses and gains. Windows are triple glazed.

NREL Evaluates Advanced Fleets and Vehicles

For years here at Clean Fleet Report, we have used NREL reports as a background for our articles. Their solar charging stations and alternative fueling capability enables NREL to evaluate advanced vehicles. NREL fleet test and evaluation reports.

NREL tests various form types of electric vehicles including all-electric cars and trucks, plug-in hybrid cars and delivery vans, and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles from buses to forklifts. Hydrogen is produced at the lab with wind electrolysis and solar electrolysis.

NREL supports alternative modes of commuting to work and alternatives to air travel. These activities are key to achieving sustainability in transportation:

  • A free EcoPass for NREL employees in Colorado allows employee use of the Regional Transportation District bus system free of charge.
  • Alternative-fuel shuttle vehicles reduce vehicle miles traveled between buildings on NREL’s Golden, Colorado campus.
  • An alternative work schedule policy reduces vehicle miles traveled by allowing employees to work varying schedules
  • Video conferencing reduces the need for air travel between NREL offices in Golden, Colorado, and Washington, D.C. For example, in FY 2007, the need for 121 domestic air flights totaling 336,300 air miles was eliminated.

Colorado’s devastating wildfires must give special meaning to the researchers at NREL. Many have friends and family who suffered personal losses. Research and practical use of efficient buildings and efficient transportation is critical as we measure a growing concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a hotter planet, and destructive wildfires from Georgia to California.

In the future, transportation from rail to cars will be powered by renewable energy. We will need less energy as we continue to achieve breakthroughs in efficiency such as 1,325 people working in a net zero building.



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About Author: John Addison

Founder of the Clean Fleet Report, author of Save Gas, Save the Planet. John writes about electric cars, renewable energy, and sustainability.

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