Silicon Valley Zero-Net-Energy Buildings at the Forefront of Net-Positive Energy Potential

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Rendering Courtesy of WRNS Studio

By Jacob Bourne

A single-story office building at 380 North Pastoria in Sunnyvale will attempt to move the bar on zero net energy (ZNE) development. Partners Sharp Development and Hillhouse Construction are hoping to put the finishing touches on the building by the end of November, offering potential tenants over 45,000 square feet of zero net energy space with truly original features. The WRNS Studio-designed project is within a short walk of the companies’ similar carbon-neutral buildings at 435 Indio Way and 415 Mathilda Avenue, completed about a year ago, and effectively balances environmental sustainability with the health and wellness expectations of today’s workforce. The project is owned by H&S Properties, a company that has been a partner in Sunnyvale’s other ZNE developments.

“The thought process of our team is how we can make spaces more functional,” said Ken Huesby, president and CEO, Hillhouse Construction. “What else can we do with solar panels besides generating power? We’re taking technology and asking how we can make it more beneficial and more functional to get more value out of it.”

At the rear of the building, the development team used a special type of watertight solar paneling to create a canopy housing a usable workspace underneath. The canopy not only supplements the solar panels on the building’s roof, but also provides an all-seasons area that seamlessly blends into the indoors for an environment that feels natural. Mature, drought-tolerant trees will provide a pleasing transition between at-grade parking and the outdoor work area, bathed in light filtered down through the speciality solar panels. Large doors and windows featuring View Dynamic Glass work to reduce energy consumption by insulating the space at a rate of six to eight times that of regular glass as well as offering interior areas with natural light. South facing skylights dot the ceiling harvesting sunlight year round and provide natural lighting inside the space.

A unique aspect of the project is that it weaves kelvin tunable lighting into a Power over Ethernet (PoE) system that runs through a network of cable tray racks, suspended above light fixtures, that ultimately feed into a server room. The system utilizes category five cables to supply energy throughout the structure instead of standard line voltage.

“No one has really taken a building in a holistic way like this, taking all this infrastructure and integrating it into this PoE system,” said Huesby. “Up until some recent technologies you couldn’t push the amount of power to the lights — the technology just wasn’t there yet. We worked with some technology partners to do that to allow integration of things like fans, light fixtures and actuators that open and close the windows. So all this building infrastructure is all powered over the intelligent communication grid and network.”

Light fixtures throughout the building that use kelvin tunable lighting are able to adapt to and replicate outdoor lighting levels imbuing office spaces with a natural atmosphere. This, along with a moss-fern wall installation and regular air quality, acoustic, noise and moisture monitoring, contributes to the project’s considerable health and wellness benefits.

“Our whole mantra is to do this in a way that’s more profitable,” explained Kevin Bates, president, Sharp Development. “One way that we drive down energy needs to reduce the reliance on solar panels is by driving down the need for HVAC for heating and cooling. We rarely have to run AC in the other nearby ZNE buildings.”

The building is geared for LEED Platinum certification, just one of an extensive repertoire of sustainable aspects. Building components are sourced from repurposing excess materials of other projects and the site’s prior structure. Amenities include bicycle racks, lockers, showers and a community garden. The space is geared for one to two tenants that will have some flexibility in space configuration.

“This is a continuation of ZNE projects that we’ve been working on for a number of years but it’s still a new conversation for 95 percent of the community, because it’s not mandated but all voluntary,” offered Huesby.

Yet, the results to date seem to be out-performing expectations initially designed. “It’s been a matter of figuring out how to do it cost-effectively. What we’ve found is that they’re actually net-positive — they’re generating more energy than they’re using. We engineer them to generate about 80-percent of what they use. Right now the three buildings that have been occupied for a year now are generating 113-percent of what they’re using,” added Huesby.