A Kaiser Permanente office in Santa Rosa has become the first net-zero health care facility in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy, which means it produces enough renewable energy to meet its own annual consumption without emitting greenhouse gases.
Kaiser’s office at 2240 Mercury Way earned the distinction as it’s fully powered by electric means, without burning fossil fuels. It uses solar panels, special pumps to regular temperature and hot water, and insulation and windows that adjusted to the sun.
The Mercury Way location, built in 2018, primarily serves as a family medicine facility with pediatrics and obstetrics and gynecology services, among others.
Jodie Clay, a capital project team manager for National Facilities Services, the firm responsible for designing and building Kaiser’s facilities, said the Oakland-based health care giant has upheld a goal of being net-zero for the last decade.
“Kaiser Permanente recognizes that improving the environment is one way to improve the overall health of the communities we serve,” said Dr. Catherine Gutfreund, who oversees the Mercury Way Medical Office.
“We are proud of the way our medical office is helping to reduce the carbon footprint in our local community, and is serving as a model for how to design, build, and operate energy-efficient buildings in the future.”
A building’s ability to achieve a net-zero status requires a two-part design that combines energy efficiency with renewable energy sources onsite, according to information from the Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Initiative.
The design and building teams worked to construct the Kaiser facility, located off Highway 12 in the southwest area of the city, to be as environmentally friendly as possible, Clay said, with the ability to generate its own energy and use as little power as possible.
“We were required to prove the (building) design achieved the operational impact,” Clay said. “We spent from October 2018 through September 2019 tracking building performance against the model in the design and proved out the net zero — we produce more energy than we use.”
Its parking lot is covered by solar panels that generate 600 kilowatts of power, with over a dozen electric vehicle charging stations and more on the way. In measuring and verifying the building’s net-zero status, the solar panels, called a solar photovoltaic system, performed better than expected.
The 87,300-square-foot building’s temperature and hot water is regulated by heat pumps, rather than gas-fired broilers, and special insulation and windows are used to adjust to the sun, reducing the need for air conditioning inside.
Each office has individual controls, as well, to help regulate temperature.
Clay said as construction was ongoing, the design and rebuilding teams were able to measure the prospective energy use in the design phase and revise building plans to meet the requirements for becoming net-zero.
“We were able to assemble a really robust team right out of the gate,” Clay said.
The Mercury Way building has also been certified Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Platinum — the highest level of such certification — and Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Net Zero Energy by the U.S. Green Building Council, Clay said.
The building is currently in the process of being certified Net Zero Carbon by the International Living Futures Institute.
Kaiser will continue to build and design facilities to be all-electric on a case-by-case basis, Clay said.
“We’re really thoughtfully applying the lessons we learned with this building as we look at all the rest of the buildings that are scheduled to be constructed in the decades to come,” she said.
“I think was a very brave thing for Kaiser Permanente to do and now they’ve proven it can be done.”