It's no secret that researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) do cool things — including finding new ways to capture energy from the sun and wind. But there's nothing cooler than working on a parking garage, right?

In the short term, after the RSF was built and while the parking garage and south entrance were still under construction, NREL put a traffic mitigation plan in place. Staff parked at a nearby shopping mall, and shuttles bussed employees back and forth between the campus and offsite parking. NREL also continues to offer bus passes and van pool vouchers, and encourages staff to carpool, bike to work, and take advantage of alternative work schedules and telecommuting.

With the parking garage now open, NREL no longer has offsite parking that requires shuttle buses. NREL also worked with the local transportation district to shift a popular bus route to drop off NREL employees right at the south entrance, so they can easily walk to their offices.

Ongoing traffic assessments indicate the system is working. The morning and afternoon delays at the east and south entrances are minimal. "With all of these efforts, we have worked to spread the traffic out, so there isn't one high-impact area for the surrounding community," Myers said. A follow-up traffic study is planned in 2013.

Small Building, Giant Energy Savings

Some employees who can't take advantage of alternative transportation are now entering NREL's campus via a new road and site entrance building.

"The south entrance building is pretty wild. It is a hyper-efficient building," Thornton said. "It's a little security station — again, those are not given much respect and are usually very utilitarian. This building is brighter and more welcoming to visitors. The point is to make it feel like it does when you visit the RSF."

The new site entrance building has a wind catch tower for natural ventilation and features geothermal heating and cooling. It's a net-zero energy building and has the same types of daylighting and occupancy sensors as the garage and the RSF.

Both the garage and the new site entrance building are metered like the RSF, so NREL can monitor energy use to ensure that the buildings meet design goals. When people ask how NREL's buildings are performing, researchers know they will able to answer confidently.

"We believe the site entrance building will fall into the upper range of LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] points," Thornton said. "If 80 out of 100 is needed for platinum designation, we're trying to achieve a score in the 94–95 range, because we are maximizing the sustainability of the structure."

The metering and the ability to prove that buildings can be built to be energy efficient, high performing, and still affordable is important to NREL's mission to help shape the commercial buildings of the future.

"The big picture is that no matter what, there is room for innovation in the design process to see savings as big as 90% over code," Scheib said. "It doesn't matter if it's a parking garage, lab, or office building."

"There's no demonstration piece better than a living, active building," Thornton said. "As designers, we can talk about designs and concepts all day long, but built structures speak to all clients. If you can show them rather than tell them, it makes all the difference."

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August 16, 2012