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Sustainable Buildings

An aerial photo of a large campus of research buildings.

NREL's South Table Mountain campus in Golden, Colorado.

The high-performance buildings across NREL's South Table Mountain campus incorporate a number of state-of-the art energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies, making them models for sustainability. Each building, designed to meet the Gold or Platinum standards of the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) program, brings NREL closer to developing the campus of the future.

NREL's most sustainable buildings are the:

Real-time building performance data from NREL's "living laboratories" is monitored and recorded to inform adjustments and benchmark long-term performance against energy-use goals.

Energy Efficiency

NREL integrates highly replicable energy efficiency technologies throughout the campus. Some of these key energy efficiency measures and building design strategies include:

  • Installation of ENERGY STAR®-rated equipment
  • Insulation
  • Natural ventilation
  • Daylighting
  • Passive heating and cooling
  • Plug-load management.

NREL also purchases renewable energy credits to reduce the laboratory's reportable energy intensity and subsequent greenhouse gases. Currently, NREL's energy intensity is below the Department of Energy's goal for FY 2012, with a value of 183 kBTU/ft2—a 29% decrease from the FY 2003 baseline.


To keep track of energy intensity, NREL meters: electricity, gas, and water usage. NREL uses more than 20 advanced electric meter systems in all major facilities and digital meters are connected to an energy dashboard. The Web-accessible dashboard has data analysis tools that allow for continuous tracking of energy generation and consumption.

Renewable Energy

Part of NREL's sustainability approach is to maximize on-site renewable energy generation. Renewable energy projects installed on campus include:


NREL's photovoltaic (PV) systems have a total capacity rating of 4,431 kW. Systems are installed at the South Table Mountain Campus and at the National Wind Technology Center. These PV systems were either directly purchased or acquired through Power Purchase Agreements and the renewable energy credits from these systems are sold to Xcel Energy to support the State of Colorado's Renewable Portfolio Standard.


Wind turbines at the National Wind Technology Center have approximately 10,176 kW of installed capacity, including turbines used for research. Renewable energy credits from some of these turbines are sold to Xcel Energy to support the State of Colorado's Renewable Portfolio Standard.


NREL's Renewable Fuel Heating Plant (RFHP), a wood-fired combustion boiler utilizes forest thinning and wood fuel. The RFHP provides half of the heat delivered to NREL's South Table Mountain campus central heating system. The capacity rating for the RFHP is 9 million Btu/hour.

A ground source heat pump (GSHP) at the mesa top on South Table Mountain has a capacity rating of 150,000 Btu/hour. Solar thermal energy technologies are incorporated throughout NREL's campus, including solar hot water systems, ventilation air preheating systems, and Trombe walls. These projects represent an annual combined thermal output of nearly 10.2 million Btu. There is also extensive use of passive solar and daylighting.

For more information on NREL's sustainable buildings, see the Buildings website and the Sustainable NREL Report for FY 2010–2011.