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Discovery Park goes green with zero energy lab

Discovery Park goes green with zero energy lab

Discovery Park goes green with zero energy lab
July 10
11:34 2015

Erica Wieting | Senior Staff Writer


To many, Discovery Park’s zero energy lab is more than just a workspace. It’s a conference room, a test center and a living space.

Affectionately named Z0E by its members, the 1,200 square-foot lab took nearly two years and almost $1 million to launch, graduate student Surai Talele said.

“Whenever we produce some extra electricity on site we supply back to the city, and whenever we need some extra electricity we get it back from the city,” Talele said. “So that is why we call it ‘net zero energy building.’”

Z0E occasionally serves as a living area for students conducting research and for those participating in occupant behavior research, experiments based on observing people in a controlled domestic setting.

“This isn’t so much a place designed to reach zero energy as a lab to test zero energy concepts,” adjunct faculty member James Brauer said.

Students and faculty working at the lab are currently conducting research on reducing human energy production. Through experimenting with the design of the building, testing innovative methods of energy and water consumption and observing willing subjects in the lab, researchers are discovering efficient ways to use energy in a home setting.

Z0E’s entire design was carefully thought out, Talele said. Students and faculty use the building’s innovative energy methods to further their studies and ultimately help others.

“The intention of this lab is to reduce the energy consumption of residential buildings in [regions outside the] Texas area,” Talele said.

At the lab, solar power is the main energy source. A solar panel located on the roof holds 5.2 kilowatts of power—typical for a residential system, Talele said. 5.2 kW can power five 100-watt light bulbs for 10 hours.

“We have [the] building at a south orientation in order to capture maximum solar radiation,” Talele said.

The lab utilizes a type of solar panel called photovoltaic, an expanded form of solar power. According to NASA’s website, PV systems use solar panels to absorb natural sunlight and convert it into electricity.

Utilizing panels in a residential system like Z0E’s can lower electricity costs between 25 and 50 percent, according to the House Logic website. A wind turbine is also used as an alternate energy source at the lab. The lab’s newest turbine, obtained in January, has a peak power of 3.2 kilowatts.

Once wind energy has been trapped and converted, an electrifier can change the current from an alternating current to a direct current, graduate student Pooya Sharifani said.

The energy is then stored in a series of batteries until it is ready to be used, at which point it will be converted back to AC.

“The reason that we are generating the electricity from the AC in the wind turbine is that we are using three phases,” Sharifani said. “If you want to make it a DC it’s just in one phase, but in AC we generate it in three phases so we could generate more current.”

Z0E is also equipped with a unique heating and cooling system, Sharifani said. Six geothermal wells are located outside the lab, which are drilled 225 feet underground.

According to the Department of Energy, geothermal heat pumps use the natural heat of the earth to regulate indoor temperatures.

“It changes automatically from heating to cooling, cooling to heating,” Talele said. “So even if there is a fluctuation during the day, it can shift automatically.”


Graduate student Pooya Sharifani studies the pipes in the lab. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

The response, Talele said, is slower than the HVAC systems traditionally found in domestic and commercial settings, but it is much more environmentally friendly. A substance called polyethylene glycol, which is the main ingredient in antifreeze, is used for the cooling process and has a very low level of toxicity.

“I’m trying to make a model from the actual data so we can run it through the simulation program and give the performance of the heat pump, how much energy is consumed and how its performance changes,” graduate student Saif Abdulameer said. “[This is] to see if it’s energy efficient or it’s time to replace it and get something else.”

The lab also has its own water filtration system, which Talele said consists of two sedimentary filters that catch all of the undrinkable particles in the water. The water then goes through carbon and ultraviolet filters to purify and sanitize it for domestic use. Sharifani said the inverted shape of the lab’s roof helps catch rainwater.

“We are using two gutters, two sides, to use water from the rain,” Sharifani said. “It’s a 3,000-gallon tank outside.”

Eventually, the students and faculty working at the lab will use the data they’ve collected to begin conducting occupant behavior research.

“We plan to invite students from different geographical areas, like somebody from Asia and somebody from Africa because they have different behaviors,” Talele said. “It is very hot in the Middle East but very cold in Europe, so their consumption behavior is different inside the houses.”

Featured Image: Two gutters trap the rainwater and send it to a tank outside to be stored. Paulina De Alva | Staff Photographer

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