NREL's Research Support Facility--a model of super efficiency

Imagine an office building so energy efficient that its 800 occupants consume only the amount of energy generated by renewable power on and near the building.

As employees of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) moved into the new Research Support Facility (RSF) in Golden, Colorado, in July 2010 the idea of a highly energy efficient office space is becoming a reality.

The building is expected to use 50 percent less energy than if it were built to current commercial code and to qualify for the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum rating.

With 19 percent of the primary energy in the United States consumed by commercial buildings, DOE's goal for the RSF project is to help change the way commercial office buildings are designed and built.

Design-Build Approach
To meet stringent time and performance goals-while mitigating costs and risks-the RSF project team developed an innovative approach that relied on an integrated design and construction approach, extensive up-front planning, a national design com­petition, energy modeling, and a firm fixed-price contract. DOE and NREL invited nearly a dozen design-build teams to submit proposals. Three teams were short-listed to develop concept designs and submit proposals. The Haselden Construction and RNL team won the design-build competition and began work in July 2008.

Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Features
The RSF building showcases numerous high-performance design features, passive energy strategies, and renewable energy technologies. It is a prototype for the future of large-scale ultra-efficient buildings.

  1. Building orientation: The relatively narrow floor plate (60' wide) 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.
  2. Labyrinth thermal storage: A labyrinth of massive concrete structures is in the RSF crawl space. The labyrinth stores thermal energy and provides additional capacity for passive heating of the building.
  3. Transpired solar collectors: Outside ventilation air is passively preheated via a transpired solar collector (a technology developed by NREL) on the building's south-facing wall before delivery to the labyrinth and occupied space.
  4. Daylighting: 100 percent of the workstations are daylit. Daylight enters the upper portions of the south-facing windows and is reflected to the ceiling and deep into the space with light-reflecting devices.
  5. Triple glazed, operable windows with individual sunshades: Aggressive window shading is designed to address different orientations and positions of glazed openings. Occupants can open some windows to bring in fresh air and cool the building naturally.
  6. Precast concrete insulated panels: A thermally massive exterior wall assembly using an insulated precast concrete panel system provides significant thermal mass to moderate the building's internal temperature.
  7. Radiant heating and cooling: Approximately 42 miles of radiant piping runs through all floors of the building, using water as the cooling and heating medium in the majority of workspaces--instead of forced air.
  8. Underfloor ventilation: A demand-controlled dedicated outside air system provides fresh air from a raised floor when building windows are closed on the hottest and coolest days. Ventilation is distributed through an underfloor air distribution system. Evaporative cooling and energy recovery systems further reduce outdoor air heating and cooling loads.
  9. Energy efficient data center and workstations: A fully contained hot and cold aisle datacenter configuration allows for effective air-side economizer cooling with evaporative boost when needed while capturing waste heat for use in the building. Plug loads are mini­mized with extensive use of laptops and high-efficiency office equipment.
  10. On-site solar energy system: Approximately 1.6 MW of on-site photovoltaics (PV) will be installed and dedicated to the RSF. Rooftop PV power will be added through a Power Purchase Agreement, and PV power from adjacent parking areas will be purchased with 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding.

Materials used in the RSF contain recycled content, rapidly renewable products, or were regional, meaning they were procured within a 500-mile radius of Golden. Examples include:

  • Wood from pine trees killed by beetles used for the lobby entry;
  • Recycled runway materials from Denver's closed Stapleton Airport used for aggregate in foundations and slabs; and
  • Reclaimed steel gas piping used as structural columns.

About 75 percent of construction waste materials have been diverted from landfills.

Workplace of the Future
The RSF provides employees with a new type of office space-one that is open and encourages interaction and collaboration. Low profile, modular work stations allow daylight and views for all occupants. Workstations are located within 30 feet of the near­est window, and employees are able to open windows when conditions permit, allowing for natural ventila­tion and improved indoor air quality.

Highly efficient computer laptops, monitors, and all-in-one print/fax/scan devices contribute to lower energy use.

Cost Comparison
Does this type of building cost more to build? A look at other large office build­ings recently completed in Colorado shows that it's comparable. While government buildings typically cost more because of enhanced safety, security, and telecommunications requirements, RSF construction costs are in line with other large office buildings in the state. The building will be extensively monitored to see if performance matches design.

For More Information
More detailed information about the RSF can be found on NREL's Web site: or by calling NREL's Public Affairs Office: (303) 275-4090.

Size: Approximately 222,000 sq. ft.
Occupants: Approximately 800
Energy Use: 35 kBtu/sq. ft./year*
Energy Performance: 50 percent better than ASHRAE 90.1 2004 standard
LEED Rating: Platinum** (including the maximum points for energy)
Cost: $57.4 million (construction cost); $64 million, including furnishings

* Includes high-performance data center **Targeted