Achieving net-zero output for new ECE building

“It’s a big deal, obviously,” explained ECE Professor Philip Krein about the goal for the new ECE building to achieve a net-zero energy output. A big deal, and a goal that requires coordination of numerous internal systems within the new building.

The outcome of this coordinated approach, explained Krein, “is that the energy bill for this building over the course of a year should be zero. It should be producing as much as it uses on the average over the course of a year.”

Certainly, there will be times during peak use, such as during the summer months, when the building would need to take some energy from the University. But that would be offset during the times when the building would create more energy than it uses. Over a full year, these should balance out to essentially zero.

Achieving this goal will require innovative and cutting-edge technologies and designs.

One such technology is the use of a chilled beam system. “This is an advanced version of  hot water heat,” explained Krein. Much like a familiar hot water heating system, this system will circulate hot water during the winter to provide heat to the building. What is different from the traditional system is that it will also circulate cooled water during the summer months to provide cooling. This water-based system is more efficient than standard systems that circulate air.

Other strategies will include state-of-the-art technology for the building envelope, including high-efficiency insulation, efficient design of the ventilation components (with heat recovery systems added), use of LED and high-efficiency fluorescent lighting, and extensive passive solar design. For example, architectural elements are designed for shading to reduce solar heat buildup in the summer while also allowing light to enter.

Finally—and perhaps most prominently—solar panels on the roof of the new building as well as on a nearby parking structure will provide electricity for the building. These panels will provide approximately 1,500 kilowatts of power for the building.

“There are other net-zero buildings here and there,” said Krein, “but none are as large as or on the scale of what we’re proposing for the ECE building. This is an ambitious, and I believe ultimately attainable, plan.”