Laboratory Design Newsletter 2011 Selected Abstract

Achieving Campus Zero Net Energy One Building at a Time: A Case Study of University of California, Merced's, Science and Engineering Building II

Irene Monis, AIA, LEED® AP, SmithGroup Inc.
John Elliott, CEM, University of California Merced

The University of California, Merced's, Science and Engineering Building II will be an interdisciplinary facility shared by the schools of natural sciences and engineering. The building is designed to provide research and teaching laboratories, academic offices, meeting rooms, and student lounge areas totaling 102,000 square feet distributed on three levels and a basement. Sustainable and environmentally sensitive aspects of the building design include minimizing the amount of non-renewable energy and materials consumed, minimizing total carbon footprint, and attaining LEED® Gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council. The building also includes energy production, research, and demonstration integrated into its design.

Rendering of building exterior

SmithGroup designed the building to respond to Merced's extreme summer temperatures and to the university's desire to produce renewable energy on campus. SmithGroup incorporated passive design strategies in order to mitigate solar heat gain impacts on the building's façade and to help minimize cooling loads. Shading systems protect most of the glazed openings in the building. An extensive arcade surrounds the ground level engineering laboratories, providing both an outdoor shaded connection to the adjacent buildings on campus and opportunities for outdoor academic activities such as robotics experimentation and testing. The building design incorporates a photovoltaic-clad canopy that covers a public plaza on the ground level. The plaza will provide a shaded exterior gathering space for students, faculty, and staff to engage in educational and recreational activities. Balconies located adjacent to meeting rooms provide shaded exterior interactive spaces. The roof reserves an area for future installation of photovoltaic panels. In line with the university's living laboratory goals, an extensive area for faculty and students to conduct renewable energy experimentation and research is located on the roof. A solar hot water system will provide domestic hot water for the building.

Rendering of exterior space

The University of California, Merced, has adopted a target of zero net energy and zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 and beyond. This commitment relies on an effort to maximize energy efficiency, implemented through a program that sets energy performance targets for new building designs. The overall goal of the program is to design buildings that consume half the energy and peak demand of other university buildings in California. The campus also requires buildings to perform 30 percent better than California Title 24. Specific targets are set in relation to benchmarks that represent the energy performance of existing build stock, developed based on data collected from other University of California and California State University campuses. The benchmarks are differentiated by type of use and corrected for climate. The campus has been phasing in energy performance targets over time. While current designs target 50 percent of the benchmark, the Science and Engineering II design target was 65 percent of the benchmark.

During the design phase, SmithGroup created an energy model to evaluate building energy performance against energy performance targets. The model accounted for the performance of all building systems, including laboratory process loads. The building is modeled to perform at 55 percent of the benchmark for annual electricity (22.4 kilowatt hours per square foot per year), 44 percent of the benchmark for peak electricity (2.9 watts per square foot), and 41 percent of the benchmark for total source energy (23,000 British thermal units per square foot per year). The building is 44.5 percent better than required by Title 24.

The building HVAC system was designed to eliminate reheat through the use of variable air volume (VAV) terminal heating and cooling in laboratory areas, economizer-based air handling units with intelligent VAV diffusers, and full switchover for heating and cooling. Heat recovery runaround loops temper 100 percent outside supply air. Careful occupancy sensing, tied to both HVAC and lighting systems, will complement schedule-based building setbacks. In addition, the building utilizes the campus thermal storage chilled water system, which saves energy by producing chilled water at night when the chillers can be more efficiently operated. An energy monitoring and control system will be installed to assess post-occupancy energy performance and enable systems optimization.

The university's energy performance target approach helped drive the sustainability and energy efficiency strategies for the project. The Science and Engineering Building II will be the latest addition to the campus and will help bring the university one step closer towards its 2020 zero net energy goal.


Irene Monis is a principal with the San Francisco office of SmithGroup. An architect and a sustainability expert with more than 20 years of experience, Ms. Monis specializes in the design and construction of science and technology facilities. Ms. Monis' expertise involves projects on university and institutional campuses with a focus on green design, LEED, and Labs21. Ms. Monis has extensive experience leading LEED-certified projects and has presented at industry conferences on topics ranging from sustainability to science and technology design. As a sustainability leader at SmithGroup, Ms. Monis has conducted LEED training seminars and has served as a sustainability advisor for the company at large. Through her laboratory design experience, Ms. Monis has been an active participant in the Labs21 Program.

John Elliott is the director of energy and sustainability at the University of California, Merced. As co-chair of the Chancellor's Advisory Committee on Sustainability, Mr. Elliott is also responsible for shaping and implementing the campus sustainability strategy, which includes a "triple-zero" commitment to zero net energy, zero waste, and climate neutrality by 2020. Mr. Elliott is involved in all phases of campus infrastructure, including new construction, maintenance, operations, and planning. Mr. Elliott also manages the use of a campus-wide building energy management system as a "living laboratory" in order to facilitate operations, performance monitoring, and research.