NASA uses light control systems from Lutron Electronics to help achieve net zero energy use and LEED platinum status

The federal government is the nation’s single largest landlord and energy consumer, operating more than 500,000 facilities comprising more than 3 billion square feet. Historically, approximately $30 billion is spent annually on acquiring or substantially renovating federal facilities, and about $7 billion is spent on energy for federal facilities, according to the National Institute of Building Sciences. Consequently, the federal government represents the largest opportunity to reduce the nation’s dependence on non-renewable energy sources.

Leading the way, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., recently set the standard for other federal agencies needing to reduce dependence on non-renewable energy. The new facility at Kennedy Space Center achieves net zero energy use – the ability to power the facility with renewable resources to offset the costs of electricity provided by a local utility. NASA rang in 2011 with the opening of its Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility, the agency’s greenest facility.

“The facility actually generates more energy than it requires in a 24-hour period,” said Frank Kline, a NASA Construction of Facilities project manager. “And our ability to do that is largely attributed to advanced lighting solutions. Lighting typically consumes nearly 40 percent of a building’s energy so it naturally has a great impact when technology and products are applied appropriately.”

The new facility is NASA’s first carbon-neutral facility, which means it is engineered to release no greenhouse gas emissions during renovation or operation. As the new hub for fueling spacecraft embarking on missions to solve the mysteries of the universe, the Propellants North facility uses the Earth’s most abundant natural resource to provide power to operate it.

“NASA’s goal going into the project was to design and construct a facility that uses as little energy as possible,” Kline said. “The first step in designing a net-zero facility is to construct a building that is as energy efficient as possible. Then look for renewable sources to offset that reduced load. One of the broader energy-saving strategies NASA utilized to reduce the building’s power draw was to maximize the use of natural light, a strategy known as daylighting. The NASA team recycled large windows and frames from the original launch control center to maximize available daylight in the office areas. The team relied on lighting control technology to take advantage of this free daylight and automatically reduce the energy consumed by the artificial lights in the facility.”

The initiative to make this new facility as energy efficient as possible was driven by Executive Orders 13423 and 13514, which mandate federal agencies to give preference to using energy from renewable sources and environmentally preferable products in new construction and major renovations.

Kline, who manages building projects for NASA, knew this project would pave the way for future construction and renovation projects. Interestingly, the original goal was not necessarily to build a net zero building, but to design the most energy-efficient facility possible. After selecting and implementing many different energy-saving strategies and technologies, Kline and his design team realized the facility’s potential to achieve net zero energy use.

Test Bed for Future Buildings

As a test project for future energy-efficient buildings, the Propellants North facility provides NASA the data to prove the technologies selected from each vendor actually perform as promised. Outside, the testing began with a “parking lot of the future.” For less than $1.50 per day, an electric or hybrid vehicle can plug into a solar-powered charging canopy. The eight-car station can be used for government or personal vehicles to reduce dependency on petroleum and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

More than 330 photovoltaic panels on the rooftops of the Propellants North complex maximize the availability of sunlight and generate more energy than is used by the buildings. Even the position of the buildings on the property maximizes the flow of daylight into the windows, decreasing the demand for power needed for lighting the interior.

Water conservation – another important natural resource – also factored into the design team’s attention to detail. A 7,500-gallon rainwater harvesting system supplies water to sanitary fixtures and sprinklers. By incorporating the water reclamation and storage onsite, NASA estimates the system offsets 195,000 gallons of treated water with rain water. The system saves taxpayers the costs incurred for the treated water and eliminates the need to pump treated water from over 25 miles away. This eliminates the emissions associated with water treatment and transportation.

Inside the buildings, the design team wanted to preserve historical features of the previous launch control center. “We have million-dollar views of Launch Pads A and B from this facility,” Kline said. “So we kept the windows from the iconic firing rooms of Kennedy’s Launch Control Center in their original framing.” The designers saw a need for advanced lighting controls to efficiently manage the vast amount of daylight coming in through such large windows. Since keeping the lights on is the single highest operating expense for a typical office building – exceeding that of even heating, ventilating and air conditioning systems – Kline knew that properly designed and installed lighting control systems also would result in substantial energy savings.

Innovative Use of Lighting Controls

To validate vendor claims, Kline started analyzing possible lighting-control strategies from multiple vendors. He had used lighting controls from different vendors in a small scale test at the Kennedy Space Center headquarters building. This small scale test confirmed the systems chosen for this application would perform as planned. First, to prove the systems’ effectiveness to management, he retrofitted new controls and fixtures into a small office and saw a significant reduction in electricity use. Management tested the system and provided feedback; it was easy to use, improved occupant comfort and achieved impressive cost savings.

For the Propellants North facility, the goal was to measurably save as much energy as possible by maximizing the use of daylight and minimizing energy waste. The NASA design team needed a combination of lighting controls in four enclosed office spaces. The walls in the office areas are largely comprised of windows, so the situation called for a wireless lighting control solution with remote operating capabilities.

With direct on-site support from Lutron, the design team selected a fully integrated lighting control system, including the following innovative controls and strategies:

  • Wireless wall-mounted controls. EcoSystem® wireless controls allow employees who occupy glass-enclosed offices to control lighting levels wirelessly to maximize the use of daylight in interior offices and reduce electricity use.
  • Dimming ballasts. To automatically dim lights based on available natural light, the EcoSystem digitally addressable dimming ballasts are automated to work individually or as a group. The ballasts are capable of dimming to less than 10 percent of full power and provide flexibility for employees to dim lights to preferred levels for different tasks. And because of how they are automated, they can easily be reconfigured to different switches, groupings and settings without rewiring.
  • Wireless wall control station and keypad. Pico Wireless wall-mounted control stations work with Maestro Wireless® technology and Radio Powr Savr® occupancy sensors to allow occupants in the engineering and mechanics work areas to control a specific group of lights. The Pico control uses ClearConnect RF technology to ensure seamless communication between system components. A dedicated network means communication between system devices is reliably delivered, and group commands result in a smooth, simultaneous system response.
  • Daylight harvesting. Large windows capture sunlight and naturally illuminate the space, allowing EcoSystem daylight sensors to dim or turn off electric lights based on the natural light. In the first few months, daylight harvesting has resulted in a more than 40 percent decrease in energy consumption associated with artificial lighting when compared to similar lighting fixtures without controls.
  • Occupancy sensing. EcoSystem infrared occupancy sensors turn lights off when a space is empty and turn lights on when a person enters a space. Because these sensors are used in interior spaces frequently left empty, like restrooms, energy savings is 100 percent when vacant.

“Everything in this facility is put together to make the employees comfortable and make them more efficient,” Kline said. “The flexibility and ease of use of the lighting controls increase employee productivity in addition to minimizing maintenance and operating costs.”

A Repeatable Design Concept

The building automation system monitors the facility’s energy use through KW meters installed in the electrical panels throughout the building. The meter associated with the lighting panel has confirmed a significant electricity cost savings from the lighting controls. “But the best result coming out of implementing the lighting controls was the transparency to the occupants. They didn’t even notice light levels automatically changing throughout the day,” Kline said. “The lighting system saves a lot of energy without requiring the occupants to put any thought or effort into helping do so.”

As mentioned earlier, Kline and his design team realized the facility’s potential to achieve net zero energy use after implementing the energy efficient strategies and technologies from vendors. “A key to achieving net zero energy use is reducing the energy consumed by the lights in the facility,” Kline said. “And again, the buildings’ occupants don’t even realize the lighting controls are achieving this energy savings.”

The facility is designed to be 52 percent more efficient than a traditional commercial building and qualifies for the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, or LEED, Platinum status – the highest green building certification. Kline is passionate about sustainable building and has been heavily involved in the USGBC since 2002. He expects to continue to experience further energy savings using Lutron lighting controls at the Propellants North facility and in future building projects.

“I hope this is just the start,” Kline said. “Highly efficient, sustainable building is what we are all about here at NASA. From now on, we’ll model this to the bigger buildings because we’ve always strived to get everybody the best air, the best light…all the best of everything. My advice to other federal agencies embarking on similar building projects is to conduct research to find the best vendor for each type of product or service, combine them, model, and see what you get. For us, we achieved net zero energy status and will strive to continue accomplishing this in future NASA facilities.”



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