Jeff Baker has been the driving force behind the Department of Energy’s (DOE) construction of the largest net-zero energy office building in the world, creating a ground-breaking approach for industry to improve energy performance and environmental quality, as well as save money.
The 220,000-square foot building in Golden, Colo., combines state-of-the-art renewable energy techniques and on-site power production from high-efficiency photovoltaic cells to achieve net-zero energy, meaning the building creates as much or more energy in-house as it uses.
The Energy Department hopes the building not only will be seen as a stand-alone achievement, but also will introduce a new energy culture in the United States. Commercial building energy usage accounts for 19 percent of our national energy consumption.
The building was constructed for $64 million, comparable to the price tag of more traditional structures, and it will save up to 50 percent of standard energy costs.
The project began in the late 1990s with Baker’s vision for a super energy-efficient building that would be a world-class example of what is possible. He engaged in tireless efforts to convince Congress, the Office of Management and Budget, and DOE managers of the need for the building and for funding.
Baker, the director of laboratory management for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), also worked to develop a new strategy that permitted energy to drive the building’s design, a concept that initially met with resistance from some of his government colleagues. But this approach was crucial to freeing the architects and engineers to be innovative.
“Jeff is the soul of this project. Without him, none of it would have been possible,” said John Sullivan, who served as Baker’s boss at DOE for six years. “Not only will this building be a showcase to the country and save a great deal of money for taxpayers, but it was done on budget and on time because of the intense planning and tenacity in which he approached it.”
The “H” shaped structure is configured to provide the best possible daylight and cut the amount of electricity needed for lighting. It has natural ventilation, and large windows that have a combination of glass and coatings to let in light while keeping unwanted heat out.
Solar collectors pull air heated by the sun into the building on cold days, and in the basement, a labyrinth of concrete walls captures the day’s heat or the night’s cool air to be slowly released upstairs. Engineers wrote a computer program to determine the building’s size and shape and calculate air flow. Water also flows through piping in the floors to warm or cool the air.
Recycled materials, including reclaimed natural gas pipes, serve as the columns to support the floors and walls, and paneling is made from pine trees killed by the bark beetle infestation.
The building is designed to house about 800 federal and NREL employees. NREL is the nation’s only federal laboratory dedicated to the research, development, commercialization and deployment of renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies.
Patricia Walters, a DOE colleague in Colorado, said Baker’s net-zero building is “an important step to improving our energy security and reducing harmful environmental effects from traditional energy sources such as coal.”
The project also has benefits for other federal agencies, with the General Services Administration planning to replicate the integrated design approach in multiple federal buildings across the country.
There were numerous obstacles on the road to making the building a reality, with Baker constantly in the forefront of the fight.
“Everyone agreed with the idea and vision, but there was not initially much push to get it done,” said Baker. “I needed the politics, budget and supporters to line up to get this started. Eventually, everything clicked and people understood the potential impact of this undertaking.”
John Herrick, former DOE counsel, said Baker refused to acquiesce when he was told something was impossible. “He has an insatiable desire to learn, an ethic of getting things done and an inherent ability to lead and make correct decisions,” Herrick said.
Herrick also said Baker was instrumental in the growth and development of the national laboratory that started with just five federal employees in the 1980s. But Baker’s crown jewel is the net-zero building, something in which he takes great pride.
“How many times do you really get a chance to change the direction of a nation? It was worth all the time and effort,” Baker said.