The DFC Campus: Working Towards Net Zero
by Rich Stebbins
The sprawling, 635 acre Denver Federal Center (DFC) campus is unique within GSA’s federal portfolio.
A mix of modern and historic, it is home to approximately 35 federal agencies in about 35 different buildings that can have more than 6,000 employees working when at full capacity.
With a large population and buildings categorized as warehouse, lab space, data centers or have a historic designation, energy use can be significant. For the DFC to achieve the agency’s goal for a net zero campus by 2045, Region 8 utilizes a variety of sustainability technologies and funding strategies to cut energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions while also reducing costs.
Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding has been requested for projects to help the region to actively move the DFC campus towards a net-zero status. Region 8 has identified an electrification road map for the campus, allowing for buildings to be converted to heat pumps and other sustainable HVAC technologies that can lower carbon emissions. Heat pumps operate similar to air conditioners but provide forced-air heat during the winter months.
This can be combined with geothermal/ground source pipes that allow the heat pumps to pull energy from the earth and operate at high efficiency regardless of weather conditions. This process eliminates the use of chillers and boilers in the buildings. When paired with additional renewable energy capabilities (solar specifically), tied into a microgrid for power output, the DFC campus has the potential to prove out as a first of its kind installation in the government sector.
IRA funding is also enabling Region 8 to move forward on additional requests for photovoltaic (PV) panels to be installed on the campus. One example is for the new Food and Drug Administration laboratory on the Lakewood campus. The funding will be used to build an all-electric, high performance laboratory that will reduce carbon dioxide emissions and use energy saving technologies such as recapturing wasted heat from chillers. The project aims to be net zero through extensive use of solar panels and geothermal energy.
Region 8 also utilizes energy savings performance contracts (ESPCs) as an important vehicle to fund and implement energy saving technologies in our buildings. ESPC funding allows the government to leverage existing funding with energy savings to implement larger projects similar to a mortgage on a house.
The newest PV addition to be added to the DFC is at Building 48, currently under construction. Approximately 200 kilowatts (kW) of PV, awarded via the Enable ESPC, is slated to be installed on the roof allowing the building to move towards its net-zero goal.
The National Deep Energy Retrofit (NDER) ESPC at the DFC will evaluate buildings across the campus holistically for electric use and window improvement opportunities. Increasing the air tightness of buildings is an important step toward achieving net zero.
A proven envelope improvement technology fielded at the DFC are quad pane windows that will help buildings become more energy efficient. Initially tested at Building 41 as part of the Green Proving Ground (GPG), this technology was later fielded at Building 40. Researchers from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory found 24% average HVAC savings compared to high-performing double-pane windows.
In partnership with Aeroseal, the GPG team was able to successfully test their Aerobarrier product, providing automated air sealing to the building’s envelope at Building 40. The technology has the potential to drastically reduce the air sealing time for new buildings and major renovations while increasing the air tightness of the building, thus improving energy performance. The study is set to be released in the summer of 2023.
Region 8 will also perform another technology evaluation with a new window film from 3M at Building 67. If successful, this will be another tool we can look at utilizing in situations to improve energy performance where we don't have funding for full window replacements.
For more information on sustainability at the DFC, check out our We are Green series.