San Francisco PUC: Now the Hard Part

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San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

The initial impetus was to consolidate PUC staff from two leased buildings into one city-owned property. The resulting savings in lease payments coupled with cutting-edge design to reduce utility and operating costs at the new headquarters would mean a 26-year payback.

[contextly_sidebar id=”d2f75c35af5c5f95dc5bc396af7e73ce”]It is only fitting that the PUC embarked on what is now considered one of the greenest buildings in North America: The agency provides potable water to much of the Bay Area, wastewater treatment to San Francisco, and hydroelectric power to municipal departments. Appropriately, the PUC building is one of the first in the nation to treat wastewater within the property.

The wastewater-treatment system as based on advanced wetland technology and among the building’s best highlights. Planters inside and outside filter used water through a process similar to that found naturally in a wetland. The system reclaims all of the building’s wastewater to satisfy 100 percent of the demand for the low-flow toilets and urinals. Also, rainwater is harvested and used throughout the building for irrigation.

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission“We use 60 percent less water than the typical office building,” said Brook Mebrahtu, a San Francisco Public Works senior project manager who was part of the PUC construction team. “It’s an incredible feat.”

The building also uses less energy to light the interior by harvesting daylight. Shelves bounce the sun’s rays into the interior, while automatic exterior blinds are tied to the trajectory of the sun. Fixed fins on the south façade serve as shelves that bring daylight even further inside.

Wind turbines on the north façade and photovoltaic panels on the rooftops should help the building consume 32 percent less energy than similarly sized offices. On the north side, “the building is curved to create a wind tunnel, so it helps power the wind turbines,” Galván said.

Even though energy-saving elements are already integrated into their workplace, the more than 900 employees inside still need to do their part. “We do encourage employees to reduce their energy usage” such as keeping the interior shades up to bring in the natural light, Mebrahtu said. Workers compete to use the least energy, pitting each floor against the others. Many people already take the grand staircase instead of using the destination elevators, which carry riders directly to their floors without stopping. The elevators themselves are up to 35 percent more efficient than the standard lift.

With all the sustainability features and employee participation, Mebrahtu feels confident that the building eventually will achieve its energy goals. But it could take several more months to start gauging exact performance. Now that the turbines and solar panels are fully operational, he said, “we need a full year to obtain that [energy] information given the sun angle and wind speeds at different times of the year.”

Currently, the PUC is developing an “integrated building management system,” sophisticated data-collection and monitoring software that will closely track performance of energy, water, wastewater and other systems. It will not be complete for several months, Mebrahtu said. Once it is ready, the program will create a single platform from which building managers can track and tweak operations to maximize efficiency and cut waste.

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Photography courtesy of SFPUC

San Francisco Public Utilities Commission

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