On April 21, 2011, the U.S. General Services Administration ("GSA") announced that it has selected sixteen sustainable building technologies to be tested and evaluated at a number of federal facilities throughout the country. GSA provides office space to over one million federal employees in over 9,600 federal buildings in all fifty states and leases and offers over 12 million products and services to other federal agencies. GSA has a variety of space types, including federal buildings, courthouses, and land ports of entry. Because of GSA's broad reach over the acquisition, management, and disposal of federal assets, GSA is in a unique position to influence the environmental and sustainability performance of the entire government.
The goal of GSA is for new government buildings to be net-zero -- that is, to produce as much energy as they consume. As it states in its "FY 2010-2015 Strategic Sustainability Performance Plan," GSA embraces and is committed to a Zero Environmental Footprint goal:
The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) will eliminate its impact on the natural environment and use its government-wide influence to reduce the environmental impact of the Federal government. GSA will minimize and offset its consumption of energy, water, and other resources and will eliminate all waste and pollution in all GSA operations and activities. GSA will use its purchasing power to drive the market to produce a wider variety and greater number of products, services, and workspaces that are more sustainable. GSA will exceed the requirements of all environmental and energy statutes, regulations, and Executive Orders, and will use its expertise to help other Federal agencies exceed these standards.
Through its new Green Proving Ground ("GPG") program, GSA will test and evaluate innovative or under-used technologies that can help make federal facilities more energy- and cost-efficient. Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance, released on October 5, 2009, directed federal agencies, among other things, to cut greenhouse gas emissions to enhance energy efficiency at federal facilities and to reduce petroleum consumption. GSA is one of the lead agencies on these sustainability initiatives.
As part of the GPG program, in November 2010, GSA issued a request for information from commercial organizations, educational institutions, and nonprofit groups for emerging sustainable building technologies and practices. About 140 technologies and practices were submitted, and sixteen were short-listed for testing because they were considered to have the greatest potential to meet GSA's sustainability goals. The selections were made after evaluations by GSA officials and the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. Findings from these projects will be used to support development of performance specifications for GSA's real estate portfolio and other agencies.
In 2011 the GPG program will perform enhanced testing, monitoring, and evaluation of these selected sixteen technologies:
- Building envelope -- high r-value windows (curtain wall system with high performance glass to improve energy performance and occupant comfort)
- HVAC -- wireless mesh sensor network (improves energy management)
- HVAC -- magnetic bearing compressor (eliminates friction in compressors to increase efficiency)
- HVAC -- variable refrigerant flow system (enables use of many evaporators of differing capacities and configurations)
- HVAC -- variable-speed chiller plant control (creates network-based control operating system that reduces energy costs)
- HVAC -- condensing boilers (better thermal efficiency than conventional designs to yield energy savings)
- Lighting -- low ambient/task lighting (allows harvesting of daylight and response to occupant preference)
- Lighting -- integrated daylighting systems (allows energy savings)
- Metering -- plug load reduction (submetering equipment linking to a website shows occupants how their behavior contributes to building energy use)
- Policy -- net metering (project will evaluate effectiveness of registering building as a qualified facility with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will allow GSA to receive compensation rates up to utility company's avoided cost of alternative generation)
- Power Generation -- photovoltaics (PV) (project includes high efficiency solar panels to determine which solar panels work best in the Midwestern climate)
- Water Heating -- PV with solar water heating (project combines PV panels with thermal heating extractor panels to potentially improve efficiency of PV modules)
- HVAC -- commercial ground-source heat pumps (project will evaluate centralized water to water ground source heat pump systems)
- HVAC -- chilled beams (allows building to use the more efficient thermal transfer rate of water in occupied spaces rather than using air as is more typical in office settings)
- Building Envelope -- smart windows (compare electrochromic windows with an interstitial organic polymer "window filler"; these are the first federal building installations of this technology)
- Water -- non-chemical water treatment (non-chemical treatment systems have potential to reduce water consumption, energy, and chemical discharge into wastewater systems)
With its aim to become the "green proving ground" for other agencies and the private sector, GSA has already begun to convert some existing facilities to attain net-zero usage in order to understand which technologies and practices work and which do not work.