If every building in the world could generate its own power, it would go a long way toward solving the world’s energy challenges. It used to be that only new buildings could boast a net-zero energy rating, but the Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute is proving that times have changed.
On June 3, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti along with California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon and others attended a building dedication ceremony at the institute, located in Commerce, Calif., that showcased to the public its recently completed renovations, which represent the future of energy efficiency.
“The Net Zero Plus project is essentially the model for what tomorrow’s emergency operations centers will look like,” said Institute Training Director Brett Moss. “This provides security in the event the grid does go down. If it’s daytime, we’re going to continue to generate because of the micro grid. We’re not dependent on the utility. And because of our energy storage, if the sun does go down and we still don’t have power back, we can discharge the batteries and use that stored energy to take us through an overnight event.”
The facility’s retrofit — which took three years of planning, a year of construction and $15.5 million in funding — resulted in a 51 percent reduction in total electricity usage. The building uses 185,500 kWh per year and generates more than that, earning it a net-zero rating. The facility is both a training center and a living example of how others can retrofit buildings to improve the nation’s energy ecosystem, Moss said.
“Ultimately, as there are more and more buildings like this, it provides grid stability. Buildings like this we believe will be tomorrow’s peaker plant,” Moss said, referencing the power plants designed only to run during times of high energy demand. “Rather than a utility having to put out the time, money, energy to build a peaker plant.”
The 144,000-square-foot structure was built in the 1960s, and all the businesses inside continued operating during the retrofit, Moss said, which should serve as inspiration to others who believed that net-zero was a title reserved for new structures. When the next earthquake hits California or the next hurricane hits the East Coast, buildings like these will help society stay safe, he said.
“The storage, we don’t have to worry about a diesel generator’s day tank running dry, much as they had in Hurricane Sandy where the utility grid was done and the road infrastructure was down and stayed down and day tanks were running dry,” he recalled. “At that point, there was a scramble as to what do we do with these critical buildings, be they hospitals or cold storage facility for food.”
Garcetti notes that the program embodies everything officials are trying to accomplish in creating a more sustainable region: solar energy, energy efficiency, back up power, recycled materials, livable workplaces, green jobs and economic opportunity for everyone.
"It is the largest net zero plus commercial building retrofit in the U.S. and a great example of how we can transform our existing buildings," he said in a press release. "And thanks to IBEW Local 11 and LA/NECA, 1,500 people will now be prepared to be part of the clean energy future and have access to good-paying jobs."
Editor's Note: This story was edited on June 7, 2016 to correct the spelling of Moss' name.
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.