Soaking Up the Sun to Squeeze Bills to Zero

Posted by Trish Riley, February 17, 2011

GOLDEN, Colo. — The west-facing windows by Jim Duffield’s desk started automatically tinting blue at 2:50 p.m. on a recent Friday as the midwinter sun settled low over the Rocky Mountain foothills.

Around his plant-strewn work cubicle, low whirring air sounds emanated from speakers in the floor, meant to mimic the whoosh of conventional heating and air-conditioning systems, neither of which his 222,000-square-foot office building has, or needs, even here at 5,300 feet elevation. The generic white noise of pretend ductwork is purely for background and workplace psychology — managers found that workers needed something more than silence.

Meanwhile, the photovoltaic roof array was beating a retreat in the fading, low-angled light. It had until 1:35 p.m. been producing more electricity than the building could use — a three-hour energy budget surplus — interrupted only around noon by a passing cloud formation.

For Mr. Duffield, 62, it was just another day in what was designed, in painstaking detail, to be the largest net-zero energy office building in the nation. He’s still adjusting, six months after he and 800 engineers and managers and support staff from the National Renewable Energy Lab moved in to the $64 million building, which the federal agency has offered up as a template for how to do affordable, super-energy-efficient construction.

via The New York Times