Kaiser Permanente office in Santa Rosa is 1st US net-zero-energy health facility

Kaiser Permanente’s building at 2240 Mercury Way in Santa Rosa is the first medical facility in the nation to achieve net-zero energy as well as net-zero carbon status based on accreditation from the International Living Future Institute.

Net-zero buildings produce enough on-site renewable energy and efficiency to offset 100% of their own annual power consumption without emitting greenhouse gases.

“Since 2020, Kaiser’s strategy has been to achieve carbon-neutrality by 2050 when planning new medical buildings or upgrading existing structures, while saving money for the company,” said Ramé Hemstreet, vice president of operations for national facilities services, and chief energy officer for Kaiser Permanente.

He said Kaiser’s goal for new builds is to reduce both operational and embedded carbon where economically feasible.

“We are constantly modernizing our health network that includes some 37 medical centers and hospitals along with 700 other types of medical buildings throughout the U.S. as system component life cycles expire and need replacing. We perform an analysis to determine opportunities to eliminate fossil fuel use and reduce long-term maintenance expense with an eye toward limiting the impact of inflation,” Hemstreet said.

“In addition, we also conduct an annual carbon footprint review with the intent to implement other changes on-and-offsite to improve sustainability.”

Built at a cost of $50 million, the Mercury Way building is an 87,300 square foot, 3-story facility constructed on 6.21-acres.

It has 95 exam rooms, 60 provider offices and 8 procedure rooms with adjacent waiting areas. It also houses a pharmacy, specimen lab and imaging department. A cafe is on site along with a Healthy Living and Technology Center and is located across the street from Kaiser’s Mental Health and Wellness facility.

Construction began in 2016 and the building was occupied in June 2018 — before some of the master environmental controls and energy saving systems were commissioned and fully operational. Once everything was in place and functioning as expected, results over time could be used to form the basis for seeking Net Zero performance status.

EV charging and solar arrays

“We are also instituting an EV charging program at all new buildings and for existing facilities, and have entered into a national contract with sources to take advantage of tax incentives. To date we have installed more than 700 EV charging stations throughout the Kaiser network.

A solar photovoltaic system was installed at Mercury Way sufficient to offset the annual energy use of the facility. Hemstreet said this was less expensive than electric power from the local utility. Large solar arrays, with a total of 1,788 panels were placed on 10 canopies above half of the parking area as the building’s main power source.

According to areport prepared for the medical office building, installing the solar array did not affect the initial construction budget.

Kaiser signed a third-party power purchase agreement and sells the power generated by the solar system to the owner at a fixed rate that is typically lower than the local utility’s rate.

Close design–contractor collaboration

Alan Turner, AIA, principal with Hawley, Peterson & Snyder Architecture, said, “Close collaboration among design and contractor team members enabling us to achieve Kaiser’s net-zero objectives.”

Key team members included representatives from Kaiser’s internal national facilities services, HPS, and the construction manager with general contractor Turner Construction company, came together in what is known as a collective design-assist project delivery method.

Turner said, “This approach provided valuable input to the design process when it came to constructability, cost control and value engineering, especially since construction costs rose dramatically during the planning stage increasing the need to find viable alternatives.”

Other major firms involved in the building project included the structural engineering firm of Thorton Thomasetti and the Integral Group providing the mechanical, electrical and plumbing.

Energy-efficiency features

Measurements and a verification of actual energy performance determined that energy consumption of the completed facility was about 2% less than expected.

Heat pump technology was used to provide heating and cooling for each of the building’s 5 thermodynamic zones, as well as for domestic hot water, eliminating the need for gas-powered boilers. This saved over $1 million that would have been required to bring gas service to the building site.

New Northern California municipal codes specify that new buildings cannot connect to the natural-gas grid. The Mercury Way building gave Kaiser a head start in complying with such ordinances while enabling the building to receive a net zero rating.

The building’s solid wall envelope, or outer skin, was constructed using durable, energy efficient interlocking insulated metal panels with cladding from Kingspan. This technique saves energy by eliminating the thermal bridging that occurs with metal stud framing.

Sun control with glare-free daylighting was achieved using electrochromic windows that pass low-voltage electrical charges across a special coating on glass surfaces. When activated, these windows dynamically change from clear to a tinted color producing a dimming effect, significantly improving energy efficiency and lowering internal temperatures. This eliminated the need for expensive sun-shading devices.

Energy modeling was carried out during the design phase using Integrated Environmental Solutions Virtual Environment software to runstudies of various design features and their effect on energy use combined with a detailed cost analysis.

Hospitals are in a different category and still have diesel generators for critical backup power. For the Mercury Way building, this is not an issue. If there is a local power outage, the building staff would not be providing services, since it is not a critical care facility.

Journal Special Correspondent Gary Quackenbush (Gary.Quackenbush@gmail.com) worked at the Wall Street Journal and headed communications departments at AT&T, Pacific Bell and General Cellular Corporation, as well as several Silicon Valley high-tech public relations agencies. He was West Coast editor for Telecommunications Magazine, and later wrote for the Windsor Times and the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

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