PNC Financial Services Group has been an established leader in green building for over a decade, certifying more new construction projects than other any organization on earth. In January of 2013, PNC opened the doors to its first net zero energy branch in Fort Lauderdale, a crowning achievement that took over two years of design and collaboration with the Department of Energy Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).
The 4,900 sf Fort Lauderdale branch is part of the DOE’s Commercial Building Initiative, which aims to significantly improve the energy efficiency of new and existing commercial buildings. The grant program challenged PNC to develop a retail branch bank that was 50% more energy efficient than energy code (ASHRAE 90.1-2004) with goal of accelerating market adoption of energy efficient building technologies and solutions. Under the direction of PNC, the project goal was stretched to incorporate a net zero energy target. PNC used a combination of solar energy, solar shading, daylighting, direct current power for interior lights, building controls and sensors, efficient HVAC systems, and sustainable waste management practices to achieve NZE performance.
As owner’s representative for sustainability, Paladino supported the team during the concept development, site selection and technical analysis process. Paladino led an initial eco-charrette to define what “net zero” would mean for the branch. Next, Paladino conducted energy modeling to evaluate the Green Branch prototype in different climate regions to help the team select the ideal site.
Load Reduction Strategies
To achieve net zero, the approach was to first reduce energy loads of the prototype design by 50%; then meet the remaining demand through renewable power. The design team first addressed architecture and building systems to drive down energy loads. Additionally, Paladino developed a basis of design for the lighting scheme that led to changes yielding over 50% in lighting energy reduction, as well as incremental savings to cooling energy demands. Finally, the team engaged additional collaborators from PNC to reduce operational energy uses.
A seemingly simple plug load study at existing branches taught the team a significant lesson about the role of computer equipment. The team worked with PNC’s IT department to research and specify all new computer equipment, which consumes less energy without compromising performance. Once energy loads were minimized as much as possible through thoughtful design processes, only then did the team consider adding renewable energy technology as a final measure.
Renewable Energy Generation
Paladino conducted feasibility studies to help the team select the most appropriate method of energy production and assisted the team in reviewing and selecting technologies. The branch is powered by 211 of the most efficient photovoltaic panels on the commercial market. Paladino calculated estimated solar output and recommended placement options for the PV panels based on cost, visibility and size.
The branch opened to the public in January 2013 as the first net zero project completed through the DOE program, and achieved a LEED Platinum rating in 2014. Some of the branch’s energy efficient features will be incorporated in the next generation of PNC’s green buildings. It is estimated the branch will save $10,000 in annual energy costs compared to a typical building of its size located in Florida. In 2016, the building achieved the NZE petal of the Living Building Challenge.