Lessons in a Design-Build Approach: The U.S. Department of Energy Leads the Way to Affordable Energy Efficient Designs
by Jeffrey M. Baker, Director, Office of Laboratory Operations, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, U.S. Department of Energy
Commercial buildings account for 19% of the nation’s energy consumption, according to the Energy Information Administration, so when the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) decided to build a new office building to house its staff, energy performance was naturally a top priority. The new Research Support Facilities (RSF), currently in construction on the campus of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), is utilizing a wide variety of energy efficiency measures to reduce energy consumption by 50% over standard commercial buildings. But the goal to achieve a LEED Platinum rating didn’t override a focus on cost. The RSF’s construction costs are competitive with today’s less energy efficient commercial buildings, proof that energy efficiency doesn’t have to come at a premium.
Illustration of the completed RSF*
Achieving RSF’s energy performance at a competitive cost required a different approach to selection of the project team and the design process. Traditionally DOE used a design-bid-build approach to project acquisition, selecting separate design and construction contractors to build to an exacting project technical specification. While this process typically provided the best price for the project it limited the design team’s creativity and placed DOE in the role of arbiter between the design and construction teams.
The RSF project uses a progressive design-build approach to unleash the creativity of the private sector while shifting much of the project cost and performance risk to the design-build team. Instead of specifying technical standards, e.g., building size, configuration, and other attributes, DOE specified key performance parameters as “Mission Critical”, “Highly Desirable”, and “If Possible”. “Mission Critical” parameters included achieving Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum and compliance with Energy Star standards. “Highly Desirable” parameters included housing 800 persons, achieving the best available American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRA 90.1) energy standard with a target energy budget of 25K Btu/square foot/year inclusive of the data center. “If Possible” parameters included producing a net zero design and exceeding ASHRAE 90.1 by 50%.
Development of these parameters required extensive up-front planning by DOE and NREL. DOE and NREL commissioned the Design Build Institute of America to conduct a week long seminar on design-build acquisition strategy. A national design charrette including participation from noted experts in academia and industry was conducted to fully define the project and project challenges. Finally, a third-party owner’s representative with design-build experience was hired to help shape the key performance parameters and performance substantiation criteria.
Under the design-build approach selection of the right team was essential for success. Following a national Request for Qualifications the field of competitors was narrowed to three highly-qualified project teams to respond to the Request for Proposals. Each team was required to prepare a full conceptual design and project plan to demonstrate how it proposed to achieve the project’s key performance parameters. To ensure a robust design competition DOE defrayed the cost of conceptual design by providing a small stipend to the non-selected teams in exchange for ownership of the team’s designs. At the completion of this intense competition the Haselden Construction (www.haselden.com) design-build team which included RNL Design (www.rnldesign.com) was selected to complete a preliminary design for the RSF. DOE and NREL’s focus on key performance parameters –rather than technical specifications—provided Haselden/RNL the flexibility to necessary to develop a conceptual design that achieved every “Mission Critical”, “Highly Desirable”, and “If Possible” key performance parameter at an affordable cost.
With the design team selected, Haselden/RNL, NREL, and DOE worked closely through an “integrated design” approach to fully understand and define every aspect of the project and to prepare the preliminary design. Unlike traditional design where architecture defines form and impacts function, the RSF design was driven by its energy performance requirements. The Haselden/RNL team used extensive energy modeling to establish basic building architecture and structure, determining that two long and relatively narrow structures consisting of repetitive 30’ by 60’ modules maximized daylighting (an important energy source). Once the basic form was decided, the interior design team designed the workspace to take full advantage of the abundant daylighting and to facilitate the employee interactions critical to efficient and effective operations. Mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems were designed to accommodate the energy efficient design and occupancy needs. This process –energy, form, interior, mechanical— is a change from the traditional approach to design. Energy modeling was –and is—continuously performed to evaluate the impact of design changes on project energy performance. EnergyPlus, a DOE simulation which models heating, cooling, lighting, ventilating, and other energy flows as well as water in buildings, is available to the public at www.energyplus.gov. Additional tools are available at www.eere.energy.gov.
The requirement for close collaboration between the Haselden/RNL project team, NREL, and DOE forced all parties to fully understand all aspects of the project and enabled the development of a superior preliminary design with few unknowns thereby defining and mitigating project risks for all parties. The project’s cost, scope, and schedule baseline –the basis of the firm-fixed price design-build contract—was established at the end of preliminary design, or about 50% of final design. Under the progressive design-build strategy construction was started prior to completion of final design to reduce project execution time with no additional project risk. Construction of the RSF will be completed in approximately 15 months, on June 2010.
RSF is on schedule and will be completed in June 2010
Making Net Zero Energy a Reality
RSF’s designed energy performance of 50% better than the best commercial buildings makes the possibility of Net Zero Energy a reality. RSF was originally designed to accommodate the addition of renewable energy generation to offset the remaining 1 megawatt of power consumed in the building. DOE and NREL are negotiating with a third-party provider to add high-efficiency photovoltaic cells to the RSF through a Power Purchase Agreement. DOE and NREL anticipate that the agreement will be successfully concluded this year and --if RSF’s actual energy efficiency matches its design efficiency—the building will achieve Net Zero Energy in 2011. Getting to Net Zero Energy, a joint DOE and NREL publication, provides background and definitions to help guide those interested in net zero energy designs.
Lessons learned during the construction of the RSF are being chronicled and will be available in the future to the public. To find out more about the integrated design approach visit: http://www.nrel.gov/sustainable_nrel/rsf.html.
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