Sustainability through Dynamic Energy Management

Sustainability through Dynamic Energy Management

Integrating behavior change with advanced building systems is the new model in energy efficiency.

A photo of the inside of a parking garage on NREL's campus. Enlarge image

In NREL's energy-efficient parking structure, open atriums provide natural light throughout the structure, while a rooftop PV system supplies all needed electricity.
Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Long before the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) high-performance campus became a reality, energy experts knew it would take more than state-of-the art buildings to save energy and lower greenhouse gas emissions. To achieve sustainability, it's necessary to integrate dynamic energy management with occupant behavior change.

As plans were underway to build the "campus of the future," NREL took a broad view of what it meant to be sustainable—from incorporating real-time controls to help manage its energy infrastructure to understanding how staff behavior impacts building efficiencies, carbon emissions, and the lab's overall environmental footprint.

And this employee impact is considerable. While NREL's high-performance buildings at its South Table Mountain campus use the most state of the art energy management technology, nearly 28% of energy savings can be attributed to employee behavior.

Energy Management

NREL's energy management leadership, with its strong emphasis on environmental stewardship incorporates:

  • Onsite renewable energy systems (including wind, photovoltaic, solar thermal, and the Renewable Fuels Heating Plant)
  • Energy metering (hot and chilled water, electricity, and natural gas)
  • An energy dashboard system that monitors energy use, providing useful information on how to improve energy-saving efforts
  • Innovative power purchase agreements
  • Renewable energy credits (RECs) purchased from wind
  • Greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction efforts, mitigating the lab's environmental impact.

NREL's efforts to make its campus a model for sustainability range from large projects, such as building the most energy-efficient buildings possible, to much smaller, but no less important, strategies. Office cubicles? While typical workspaces use 300 watts, NREL office spaces feature reduced plug loads so that each work space uses only 64 watts. The lab strives to purchase only Energy Star or other energy-saving equipment. Even NREL's fleet numbers have been reduced, and more and more vehicles use alternative fuels.

A photo of a person putting food waste into a composting bin. Enlarge image

At NREL, sustainability efforts also focus on waste reduction. In the U.S., more than 50% of the solid waste that ends up in landfills is organic, or compostable, material. Lab employees use composting and recycling to help meet the lab's goal of Near Zero Waste.
Photo by John De La Rosa, NREL

Behavior Change

NREL recognizes that employee behavior is central to energy reduction, resource management, and overall sustainable laboratory operations. That's why the lab is working to integrate awareness-raising programs into its operations that encourage:

  • Energy and waste reduction
  • Recycling
  • Composting
  • Alternative work schedules
  • Alternative commuting options
  • Telecommuting.

These programs empower staff to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide feedback, which is used as a basis for further building modifications.

Energy management combined with staff commitment help NREL achieve sustainability—a model that any lab or business can adopt to reduce environmental impacts across the nation.

Learn more about NREL's ongoing sustainability efforts.

—Grace Griego

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