Solar Charging Electric Vehicles at NREL Colorado

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.



Public Transportation uses Renewable Energy

Public Transportation uses Renewable Energy

2MW Solar Roofs at LA Metro

2MW Solar Roofs at LA Metro

By John Addison (updated 10/26/11; original 9/29/09).

More Americans ride on public transit than any time in the past 50 years as more live in cities and most watch their transportation costs. Remarkably, transit operators are moving more people, yet reducing our dependency on oil and generating less carbon emissions. Increased use of solar, other renewables, vehicle electrification, and low-carbon fuels are all part of solution.

New Jersey Transit is preparing for a future where parked cars can be charged with sunlight while people use public transportation. New Jersey Transit is installing 402 kW solar canopies on the rooftops of two large parking garages at the Trenton Amtrak Transit center.

These parking structures are also equipped with charging stations for electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids. Participating in the opening ceremony was the Mid-Atlantic Grid Interactive Cars (MAGIC) consortium, which includes the University of Delaware, Pepco Holdings, PJM Interconnect, Comverge, AC Propulsion, and the Atlantic County Utilities Authority, created to further develop, test, and demonstrate vehicle-to-grid technology.

A few years ago, Los Angeles Metro invested $5 million to install 2MW of solar power as part of a three-year plan to install solar panels on every Metro Bus and Rail facility within its Los Angeles County service area. For example, the solar panels installed on Metro Bus Division 18’s maintenance building rooftop and shading parking structures consist of about 1,600 solar panels that generate 417 kilowatts of electricity, enough power pay for itself in 10 to 11 years.

Now LA Metro will receive $4,466,000 to make its rail system more energy efficient.  Red Line Westlake Rail Wayside Energy Storage System:  Install wayside energy storage substation (WESS) at Westlake passenger station is at-grade level on the high-speed heavy rail subway Red Line. The nearby traction power substation will be switched off when the WESS is operating.  The WESS flywheel technology captures regenerative braking energy when trains slow or stop and transfer back to same train or another train when it starts or accelerates, reducing energy demand and peak power requirements.

This month, the federal administration announced $100 million in Economic Recovery Act funding for 43 transit agencies that are pursuing cutting-edge renewable energy and efficiency technologies to help reduce global warming, lessen America’s dependence on oil, and create green jobs. The 43 winning proposals were submitted by transit agencies from across the country as part of a nationwide competition for $100 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) funds. Selection criteria included a project’s ability to reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and also to provide a return on the investment.  The Federal Transit Administration reviewed more than $2 billion in applications for these funds.

AC Transit in Oakland, California, is awarded $6,400,000 to increase photovoltaic capacity to 600kW.

VIA Metropolitan Transit, San Antonio, Texas, was awarded $5,000,000 to replace conventional diesel transit buses with 35-ft composite body electric transit buses. The project includes quick-charging stations at this terminal layover in route to recharge bus batteries. Grid sourced electrical energy used to recharge the bus batteries will be augmented with solar energy collected with panels procured and installed under this project.

The nation is becoming less dependent on oil as record numbers escape solo driving in gridlock and increasingly use public transit. Electrification of light-rail and buses coupled with renewable energy makes this transportation greener.

Public Transit Renewable Energy ERA Awards

California:  City of Santa Clarita, $4,620,000.  Photovoltaic Modules on Transit Maintenance Facility:  Add photovoltaic (PV) modules to the Transit Maintenance Facility (TMF) to generate electricity to offset the electric power consumed at the TMF site. The PV modules will be placed on top of canopies that will generate electricity while providing shade for full-size inter-city and commuter buses.

California:  North County Transit District (North San Diego, headquarters in Oceanside), $2,000,000.  PV Solar Implementation at facilities:  Install PV solar in a variety of facilities.

Colorado:  Denver Regional Transportation District (Aurora, headquarters in Denver), $770,000.  Heating upgrades at East Metro bus maintenance facility:  To improve the heating system at its East Metro bus maintenance facility located in Aurora, CO.  This project will replace the three existing boilers with three new 15-psi, 20-ppm NOx boilers with Advanced Hawk Integrated Control Systems.  The advanced control system will operate the boilers based on load demand as opposed to outside temperature.

Connecticut:  Connecticut Department of Transportation (statewide) $7,000,000.  Stationary Fuel Cells and Hybrid Transit Buses Incremental Costs:  The purchase of diesel-electric hybrid transit buses and stationary fuel cells for use in the statewide bus system in Connecticut. This grant would allow ConnDOT to upgrade the upcoming purchases of buses and would fund the incremental cost of a hybrid bus compared to a conventional bus.  It would also fund stationary fuel cells to provide primary and emergency back-up power for the bus maintenance and storage facilities.

Delaware:  Delaware Transit Corporation (statewide), $1,500,000.  Solar Panel Installations at DTC facilities:  Retrofits Delaware Transit Corporation facilities with solar panels, which will generate cost savings through fossil fuel energy reductions.

Georgia:  Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority, $10,800,000.  Shade structures with integrated, grid tied photovoltaic cells will be erected on a bus storage lot, generating renewable electricity while reducing heat islands.  This will be the largest PV installation in Georgia.

Illinois:  Chicago Transit Authority (Chicago), $1,500,000.  North Park Electrification – Electric Power Delivery System for Outdoor Bus Parking:  Construct electrified stalls that will deliver electrical power for up to 80 vehicles and provide services such as heating and air-conditioning to vehicles that would otherwise be left idling during overnight cleaning and prior to morning pullout.

Illinois:  Rock Island Metro (Rock Island), $600,000.  Solar Thermal System:  A solar thermal system on the building roof will provide hot water for the operations building and the maintenance building.  This is a solar thermal project not based on PV-based solar.

Illinois:  Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit District – CUMTD (Champaign-Urbana), $450,000.   Facility upgrade with Geothermal Heat Pump System:  CUMTD will replace the existing conventional HVAC system with an efficient geothermal HVAC system.

Indiana:  Greater Lafayette Public Transportation Corporation (Lafayette), $2,180,000.  GLPTC will reduce its electrical energy usage by installing wind power at its facility for use by its garage and maintenance facilities.

Massachusetts:  Lowell Regional Transit Authority (Lowell), $1,500,000.  Hale Street Solar Photovoltaic system:  The installation of a photovoltaic panel array on the roof of the Hale Street garage facility owned by the LRTA. The facility is used by the LRTA to store, fuel, maintain, and repair transportation vehicles (buses, vans, tow trucks etc.) as well as administrative and dispatch services. The facility is a 70,000 square foot building located in an industrial zone in Lowell, Massachusetts.

Massachusetts:  Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (Boston), $2,500,000.  Renewable Wind Energy:  MBTA will design and construct wind energy generation turbines in eastern Massachusetts (from among Kingston, Newburyport, and Bridgewater).

Minnesota:  Productive Alternatives/Transit Alternatives (Fergus Falls), $845,000.  Energy Reduction Consolidated Projects:  A variety of building energy-efficiency upgrades, hybrid vehicle upgrades, wind generator power systems, and the equipment needed to convert cooking oil to a blend with vehicle fuel to operate some of their buses.

Oregon:  Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon (Portland), Pennsylvania:  Red Rose Transit Authority – RRTA (Lancaster), $2,450,000 is awarded for energy efficiency and geothermal for heating and air conditioning. A green roof on the new office addition, and two waste oil burners to heat the vehicle storage building using waste oil generated by RRTA from the vehicle fleet.

Washington:  Link Transit (Chelan-Wenatchee), $2,925,000.  Battery Powered Zero Emission Circulator Buses:  Innovative Quick Opportunity Charge, Lithium-Ion “Titanate” Battery Powered Community Bus program. This project replaces five diesel powered buses operating on high frequency circulator routes and will also create a “quick charge” automated opportunity charge station with two charging podiums at Link Transit’s Intermodal Transportation Center. An additional manual charging station would be installed at Operations Base.

Washington:  Clark County Public Transportation Benefit Area (Vancouver), $1,500,000.  Facility Improvement Project:  Improve various systems and install solar panels at several Clark County facilities.  System improvements include high performance fluorescent lighting, LED exit signs, retrofitting existing pole lights; and installing occupancy sensors for private offices, conference rooms and bathrooms.  HVAC upgrades include DDC control system covering all buildings, expanded control system with advanced control strategies. Solar PV system installations range from 5kW to 20kW.