Hurricane Harvey brought record rainfall and flooding to the Houston-Galveston region. The impacts of the storm and ensuing flooding included loss of lives, homes and livelihoods. In response, researchers from the region with expertise in hydrology, climate science, engineering, coastal resiliency, energy, community development and urban planning came together to strategize on solutions.
In 2014, HARC's Board and leadership made the decision to move forward with the design and construction of a headquarters building that strongly exemplifies HARC’s sustainability mission. In partnership with the design team led by Gensler, HARC set out to create a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified green building with the potential of achieving HARC’s goal of a net-zero energy (NZE) building.
It has been almost a year since we moved into our new home. Last September the building achieved LEED Platinum certification by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), becoming the first Platinum new Building Design and Construction project in The Woodlands and Montgomery County, Texas. Our formal plaque ceremony took place on February 6, 2018 in the presence of our Board of Directors, the USGBC, staff, and guests.
Simply put, a NZE building is one that produces enough renewable power onsite to meet its own annual energy consumption requirements. NZE will be realized because of energy efficient design and operation. That design emphasized energy efficiency through building siting, a smart building envelope design, and highly efficient mechanical, electrical, plumbing (MEP), and lighting systems. Geothermal energy is also captured in wells installed beneath the parking lot for use in heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems. Over the past few months, HARC has been working to identify partners to help us reach NZE through the installation of additional solar panels on the roof. Once that additional solar capacity has been procured and installed, the building will be on track to becoming one of the first certified operational NZE commercial buildings in the State of Texas.
Beyond NZE, we are also actively looking for funding and partners to implement and showcase a variety of other technologies. This includes the deployment of energy storage systems and a grid-connected microgrid that will result in a much more resilient building power infrastructure with temporary islanding capabilities. A suite of advanced real-time monitoring and Internet-of-Things (IoT) based operational platforms will be utilized to better track facility usage, performance, and maintenance needs. This will be supplemented by the design and implementation of control strategies, knowledge discovery techniques, and data analysis utilizing advanced forecast models and machine learning, all helping to further optimize operational performance, comfort, and efficiency.
HARC will also work to implement strategies for greater water conservation, including onsite water harvesting and storage, along with composting in addition to recycling. The building as designed is highly water-efficient, utilizing low-flow water fixtures and a native landscape which requires no irrigation. Collected water, which will be stored in cisterns, will be used for exterior cleaning and irrigation during times of drought when some of the vegetation maybe unduly stressed. Food scraps, coffee grounds and filters, paper, and landscaping wastes will all find their way to the onsite composters. The resulting compost will be used on site to enhance the soil quality of the planted beds.
In an effort to better understand the high-performance capabilities of the building, HARC has released a beta-version of a building dashboard to track energy and water usage. In the coming months, Version 1.0 of the dashboard will go live and will be accessible online and from a display in the building. It will include an interactive educational component with primers on the features, systems, practices, and technologies utilized throughout the building site, including benchmark performance numbers, costs, and returns on investment. Users will be able to view and access real-time and historic data and metrics on the building’s performance. For example, energy consumption, the performance of the solar and geothermal systems, and the building’s present renewable energy ratio will all be accessible for the general public as well as HARC staff.
The HARC building continues to be recognized for outstanding design. In addition to LEED certification, in October it received the 2017 Best Projects Award of Merit by Engineering News Record (ENR) Texas and Louisiana. The building was just selected as a Houston Business Journal 2018 Landmark Awards finalist, recognized as one of the region’s top commercial real estate projects. LEED Platinum certification is by no means the ultimate goal, but merely the beginning. The building is a showcase, a living lab, and an educational and demonstration site. In many ways, it is a living manifestation of what we do at HARC and how we do it.