than the baseline building performance rating
per ASHRAE/IESNA Standard 90.1-2004.
But these achievements are only a portion of
NREL’s mission, which is to help export the lessons learned both in the design and construction
of ESIF and the research done inside. Unlike prior
facilities, the new building has been designed to
accommodate tour groups while not impacting
research. This was accomplished through the
inclusion of an isolated catwalk that lets visitors
see research activities without interfering. It’s
also intended to serve as an international magnet
for high-profile visitors. One of the early guests
was the President of Iceland. ESIF has also been
designed to attract research groups from around
the world to develop new solutions.
The 15 labs at ESIF that conduct research in
electrical systems, thermal power system and
hydrogen energy are accessible to outside groups.
Already, these research areas have attracted large
corporations such as Siemens to develop their
hydrogen fuel cell and other technologies at ESIF.
In addition to outreach, safety was a key consideration in the design phase, because many of
the high-voltage systems built into ESIF required
the implementation of National Fire Protection
Association codes, some of which required the
use of extensive and regular checklists. Larsen
says these safety checks, which often numbered
250 per week, were a significant challenge to the
Now that the building is complete, the SCADA
system allows building operators to monitor and
control events centrally. It also allows for an early
detection system for potential safety issues.
Hitting the ground running
This is the second Laboratory of the Year award for
SmithGroupJJR and NREL, which won the award
in 2008 for the Science & Technology Facility
(STF), located on the same campus as ESIF. At the
time, STF was one of the world’s most energy-efficient and environmentally friendly buildings,
earning LEED Platinum accreditation.
ESIF marks a significant step forward in terms
of efficiency, boasting low energy usage despite
the elevated levels of power consumption necessary for the operation of HPC and relatively high
levels of voltage used for experiments. In part,
says Larsen, this is a product of advancements in
technology and the know-how of both designers
and building operators.
chief mechanical engineer at SmithGroupJJR, was
the form of heat that was supplied by the HPC.
“The HPC is water-cooled, but the other
systems that support the building are air-cooled.
Ten to 20% of the energy from this air-cooling
that we wanted to utilize wasn’t in a form that we
SmithGroupJJR worked with NREL to deter-
mine their long-term goals for water usage. Data
such as water usage and computer operating
temperatures were compiled to determine the
level of efficiency required to meet energy usage
goals in the long term.
Ultimately, SmithGroupJJR was able to design
a system that let ESIF not only supply its winter
heating needs through 100% evaporative cooling, but also distribute excess heat to other buildings at NREL. This is accomplished through the
installation of extensive heating/cooling loops
installed in a base-level space that was later added
to what was a slab-on-grade design.
Efficiency, safety, outreach
Systems integration is the goal of ESIF, but the
same thinking that drives NREL’s researchers
to pursue high-level energy systems research
allowed the design-build team to meet energy-ef-
ficiency goals that include achieving all 56 Lead-
ership in Energy Efficiency Design (LEED Plat-
inum) points applied for from the U.S. Green
Building Council. In addition to being nearly
75% more efficient than an average office build-
ing, the facility is 40% more energy efficient
ment and electrical harvesting processes that
arise from the development of new systems.
AEI was responsible for the design of much of
this specialized system, which integrates with
the high-bay labs.
The other unprecedented feature of ESIF is the
HPC Data Center, which operates a petaflop-scale
supercomputer capable of large-scale modeling
and simulation. Normally, this type of installation
is, like all computers, a relatively wasteful energy
hog, dumping most of its electricity usage in the
form of heat. In the past, this heat was typically
vented; but AEI’s goal was to achieve a high level
of efficiency in keeping with NREL’s overall mission. The best way to approach this was to use the
waste energy to fulfill the climate control requirements of the whole building.
The solution was to use evaporative-based cooling, powered by warm water heated by the HPC.
The system features warm water liquid cooling and
returns water heat capture for reuse in the labs and
offices. The final HPC system, when it reaches peak
operational capacity, will operate at a power usage
effectiveness (PUE) of 1.06. This metric, computed
by dividing the total facility energy usage by the IT
energy usage, is commonly used to describe the
efficiency of data centers. A PUE of just above one
makes ESIF one of the most efficient data centers in
the world, with the potential to save approximately
$1 million in annual operating cost compared to a
traditional data center.
One of the major challenges of implementing
this approach, according to Robert Thompson,
ESIF's supercomputer, “The Peregrine”, and NREL’s Computational Science Center Director, Steve
Hamond. Photo: Dennis Schroeder/NREL