May 23, 2016 - From the May, 2016 issue

Beyond Net Zero: Electrical Training Institute Models Sustainability & Resilience

June 3 marks the opening ceremony of the Electrical Training Institute, a cutting-edge sustainable facility in Commerce that serves as a prototype for new green design guidelines known as Net Zero Plus. TPR spoke with Warren Neilson, principal at design firm Stok; Brett Moss, training director at the ETI; and Dan Cohee of PDE Energy, representing local unions IBEW/NECA, who developed the guidelines. They explained the state-of-the-art sustainable technologies incorporated into the microgrid facility, the high-performance controls afforded by data tracking, and how a Net Zero Plus building could be a model for community resilience in Los Angeles.


Brett Moss

"This net zero energy (NZE) center is six times larger than the next largest NZE facility in the nation. But beyond an energy project, this is also a demonstration of the leadership that we’ve got here in Los Angeles with IBEW Local 11 and LA/NECA." - Brett Moss

"What really differentiates this retrofitted building is that we have so much discrete control over the generation and the load, as well as historical trending." - Dan Cohee, PDE Energy

IBEW Local 11 and LA NECA are championing a Net Zero Energy Project incorporating Net Zero Plus, a set of strategies designed to meet the needs of a revolution in the electrical industry. What’s unique about the Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute (NZP ETI) that will be dedicated June 3rd in the City of Commerce. 

Brett Moss: The entire center—a combination of classroom space, lab space, and office space—totals about 144,000 square feet. That makes this project the largest commercial retrofit currently in the United States. This net zero energy (NZE) center is six times larger than the next largest NZE facility in the nation.

But beyond an energy project, this is also a demonstration of the leadership that we’ve got here in Los Angeles with IBEW Local 11 and LA/NECA. It’s through them that we’re creating the next generation of electrical workers and the next generation of contractors to lead this industry.

Through this project, we can make sure that our electrical workers and contractors are well-versed and well-trained in net-zero technology. We want to make sure that they have a seat at the table, and are involved in planning, construction, and evaluation of net-zero buildings.

Of course, we’re all mindful of California’s NZE goals that state all new residential construction in California will be net zero energy by 2020 and all new commercial construction in California will be net zero energy by 2030.  That’s really the driver behind this project. 

What are the state-of-the-art energy technologies included in your Net Zero Energy training facility? 

Warren Neilson: In terms of energy reduction, we applied technologies such as adding insulation to the envelope to reduce the cooling loads; a high-performance mechanical system; state-of-the-art lighting controls and LED lighting; and dynamic glazing on the perimeter of the building, which adjusts the tint throughout the day to reduce solar heat gain.

For energy production, we added PV to the parking lot as well as new car charging stations, which have the ability to reverse charge the building in case of an emergency.

We have an energy storage system that allows us to manipulate the energy that we’re producing and that we’re feeding back to the grid. Our energy management system helps us understand when we should move that energy back to the grid, versus when we should store it or use it. It will allow the building to act as a safe harbor in the case of any emergencies and demonstrate resiliency in the City of Los Angeles.

Dan Cohee: What really differentiates this retrofitted building is that we have so much discrete control over the generation and the load, as well as historical trending.

Most buildings just set the set point, and the lights go on or off according to occupancy sensors. We have discrete control over lighting, mechanical, and car-charging loads, and so we have the ability to grasp what each of those loads is doing. We also use the battery storage to optimize the utility demand charges and load shifting. We can build histograms of building trends. We’ve constantly seen that the building operates similarly every single day— although adjusting for weather. These tools give us information to test different operating models and optimize energy use, taking into consideration the environment for the occupants.

Can you elaborate on some of the advanced energy efficiency measures taken that helped you get to “net zero plus?”

Dan Cohee: IBEW Local 11 and LA/NECA wanted to create a building that met the future regulations and legislation for the state of California, so going net-zero energy was a natural choice.

The project entailed taking energy-efficiency upgrades upfront, including a new R-30 roof, and replacement of the existing direct-expansion compression-driven air handler units on the roof. We moved to a very high-efficiency central chilled water plant, and implemented solar stream walls to reduce heat from the sun on the exterior envelope of the building. We also installed doors with controls to avoid mixing the warehouse air with the conditioned space.

Stok had done building models to calculate out how much energy the building was using, and they looked at a vast number of energy-efficiency upgrades and selected those projects. They ranked them based on cost per value to getting to net-zero energy, and ran a model of the kilowatt hours per year consumption of the building, which was around 729,000kWh/year after the anticipated energy-efficiency upgrades were completed.

Warren Neilson: High-performance project management was critical for this project. Stok helped lead the design toward net-zero energy through our approach to energy reduction, production, storage, and management.

PDE Total Energy Solutions led the ultimate design of the renewable energy production and energy storage systems, and we worked in sync to weave a very clean method for energy  reduction—how it related to the production that we needed, how that would be stored, and what the overall management process of that energy would look like through the operations of the building.

Early on in the project, we started identifying the baseline energy use for the building, as it currently existed from a performance standpoint. We did that by running comprehensive energy audits to understand where energy was being used in the building, and from there we developed strategies to reduce the energy loads on the building. We came up with an overall game plan that included combining building science, energy modeling, and financial analysis to determine the most optimal strategies and technologies. 

NZE buildings and microgrids are increasingly being expected to be resilient to both natural disasters and to climate impacts. Expand on what impacts the training facility is designed to withstand? 

Brett Moss: When we designed this building, we had two disasters in mind. One of them, locally, was the Northridge Earthquake, and the other one was Hurricane Sandy.

When Hurricane Sandy hit, grids went down and road infrastructure went down. Those that had a generator were running off the generators—until the tanks ran dry. Unfortunately, the grid and road infrastructure wasn’t back up, and there was panic.

If this building weathers a Sandy-like storm, during the daytime, even on a cloudy day, the solar panels are efficient enough to produce energy. In an overnight event, once the sun goes down, excess energy is stored in the battery storage system.

That’s where we looked at the model from the Northridge Earthquake. At that point, because the City of Los Angeles was so broken, we suspended school for about three weeks. This building creates a community space that is resilient, where residents can be protected and construction workers can flock to as the city begins to rebuild itself. 

Dan, in January 2016, you were featured in a VerdeXchange panel addressing intelligent buildings. With only 33 verified net-zero-energy buildings or districts in the US, share why such projects are still so rare? 

Dan Cohee: From a contractor’s perspective, it’s because people wait to adopt new technologies and get their buildings in compliance with net-zero energy regulations until the last minute.

We see a lot of building owners and companies defer upgrading because it’s an expense to their company. But it’s coming and part of the purpose of this project to help educate these entities on how to develop a roadmap to reach net zero energy.

There could be a lack of ownership, perhaps, on the part of building engineers and owners, in investing in their buildings to get the telemetry, the controls, the systems and safeguards in place. They may not have the full understanding that the cost of the upfront investment will more than pay for itself by ensuring the building is operating as efficiently as possible.

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Building owners just don’t take into account the cost of ownership—the overall costs over the lifetime of the building.

Elaborate on the training facility’s use of data and software.

Warren Neilson: We use the building operational energy use data in two ways. One is to educate occupants on the operational performance of the building, how much energy it’s producing, and where that energy is going. There will be interactive dashboards in the lobby so that anyone can have a much better understanding of how energy loads are moving throughout the building.

Secondly, we use data to optimize the performance of the building. During the design of the project, we ran energy simulation models, design models, lighting models, and climate analysis studies to understand how the building might operate into the future. That data was our crystal ball throughout the design phase.

Post construction, we’re moving to a measurement verification phase to determine whether the energy loads are meeting the demand that we anticipated they would. If they’re not, we can make the adjustments to the system at that time—instead of waiting the entire year to realize that we’re using more energy than we actually need.

It’s a way of taking that data and using those controls to understand how the building is operating and tuning it throughout the year so that it operates optimally and as designed.

How does building system address the energy/water nexus?

Dan Cohee: We looked at the building holistically—not just from an energy standpoint. We looked at opportunities throughout the design of the building to reduce other utilities and environmental impacts.

That included looking at the materials that were being used, and how to remove some of the toxic materials that are associated with the built environment, as well as looking at our water demand and reducing our water loads. One additional aspect we considered to combat California’s drought was how much energy it actually takes to get water to our site.

In Los Angeles in particular, water takes a significant amount of energy. Reducing water load on the building actually relates to a reduction in energy load throughout the city and the state. It’s important to understand that relationship.

We looked through the entire building’s water load, and updated the infrastructure so that we could reduce water use throughout the building.

While California is a net-zero building leader in the US, you’ve done work outside of the US—in Australia, for example. What can we learn, or what are we learning, from other countries’ intelligent and net-zero buildings?

 Warren Neilson: You have to look at the resources that each country has.

For a lot of reasons, Germany is seen as a leader in high-performance buildings. But really, they had to go renewable—to grow their tech and engineering businesses, but also because they were importing a tremendous amount of energy to operate the country.

The countries building net-zero-energy and high-performance buildings are the countries that are looking ahead at what energy production and energy programs within their own countries will actually look like, and how energy independent or dependent they want to become.

My experience in Australia is that it’s a very forward-thinking country that is developing some very high-performance buildings, and there is a focus on net-zero energy as well as water given how drought sensitive they are.

That said, it takes a collaborative effort between policy and industry, and an understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of those both. That’s where the US has a very strong foothold in becoming a leader in high-performance and net-zero design.

We want energy independence within the country, and growth in the renewable energy market has been and will continue to be exponential. Simultaneously there has been a movement to divest in fossil fuel energy production. We also know that the US is a major contributor to climate change. By addressing these issues with thoughtful design and intelligent operations of high performance net-zero energy buildings the built environment can play a major role is solving these critical issues for the country and our planet. We know that we can provide our own energy. We know that with good design and operations of high-performance net-zero energy buildings, we can get to that place. Roughly 40 percent of the energy use and subsequently the carbon emissions in the US are related to the built environment. A reduction of energy in the operations of those buildings, and offsetting the remainder of the energy with renewables, will have a huge impact on reducing overall emissions of the country. 

Brett, before we conclude, elaborate on ETI’s history of adopting cutting-edge technology, and how the training facility aligns with the Institute’s mission. 

Brett Moss: The Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute is a school that provides apprenticeship and journey-level training for electricians and electrical contractors in LA County for IBEW Local 11 and LA/NECA.

We have always been early adopters of these electrical technologies. We were one of the first buildings in the state to put our own solar array into service in 2004. In 2012, we installed one of the first privately owned microgrids in the United States. Everything that we’ve learned and created with this project is being turned into a curriculum. That curriculum will educate the journey-level workers, apprentices, and electrical contractors, and prepare them to complete advanced energy retrofit work. 

Lastly, you are hosting a grand opening event the first week of June. Share what you hope the world learns from visiting your state-of-the-art Net Zero Plus facility.

Brett Moss: Our building dedication is June 3 and we are ready to let the world know that this project and the technology are here.  What we will showcase is tomorrow’s emergency operation center.

With an energy footprint even smaller than we’ve got on a day-to-day basis, we could use our stored energy to take ourselves through the night. When the sun came out the next day, we’d be producing enough electricity to run the building as well as to recharge that battery. That’s what we’re showing off.

The building itself is a living laboratory. We’re going to take advantage of our June 3 opening to let everybody know who we are and what we do. We train locally about 1500 apprentices—men and women who are starting or reestablishing their careers. Our goal is for 50 percent of our incoming classes to be returning veterans.

We’re expecting about 600 attendees at our dedication ceremony, including Mayor Garcetti; California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon; RDML Mark Rich, USN; Ali Zaidi of the White House; RADM, USN (Ret.) Len Hering of Center for Sustainable Energy; and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis. We’re also having technology and design tours of the center including a variety of electric vehicles on display.

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© 2017 The Planning Report | David Abel, Publisher, ABL, Inc.