How to Build a Net Zero Building: Boulder Commons – Uncommonly Green, Innovative and Sets a Benchmark for Sustainable Buildings

Boulder Commons Net Zero building - east facade with SunPower panels

Boulder Commons Net Zero building – east facade with SunPower panels

Situated at the foot of the Rocky Mountains, watched over by the iconic Flatirons, Boulder, Colorado is a 21st century hub for forward thinking technologies and lifestyles. The city is committed to environmental stewardship as evidenced by its innovative solutions to climate change and its commitment to creating a healthier, more resilient and prosperous community.

And now there is Boulder Commons, a Net Zero Energy (NZE) building which was built in 2017 and as of January 2018 is ready for tenant occupancy.

What does NZE mean? NZE buildings produce 100% of their energy needs on-site over a net annual basis. (Note: The energy use from the restaurant is not included in Boulder Common’s NZE calculation.)

Boulder Commons is the leading green building in Boulder County and is the largest multi-tenant net-zero energy project in the U.S.  (from: Best Practices for Leasing Net-Zero Energy Buildings by Cara Carmichael & Lisa Petersen)

The Boulder Commons complex, comprised of a north and south building (some 100,000 square feet), contains multiple green and innovative features using the latest technologies for ventilation and electricity generation, natural lighting and open work spaces. Tenants can avail themselves of both car and bike share programs.

The roofs of both the north and south buildings are covered with high-efficiency solar panels. Due to the net-zero requirement, generating enough energy was a major design challenge. The solution was to employ a dual-tilt array on the roofs and install vertical arrays on the two east facades using every available space.  Yes — the walls! Boulder-based Independent Power Systems was selected for the overall design resolution, PV panel installation and custom racking solution for the vertical wall arrays. Mounting conventional PV panels on walls is essentially never done, but IPS has shown that it can be done with off-the-shelf components.

In total, there are 1,072 high-efficiency SunPower solar panels on the Boulder Commons roofs and 655 of the same type panels on the east facade of the south building. Annual energy production from the solar PV is estimated to be 511,367 kWh. This will power the building — with the exception of the restaurant / cafe.

It is estimated that there will be significant cost savings in this building compared to standard energy costs for a similarly sized office building in Boulder.

Among the tenants at Boulder Commons is the Rocky Mountain Institute— an organization dedicated to research and consulting in the general field of sustainability. Tenants won’t just be renting a space in this innovative building; the objective is that they will be both inspired and incentivized to participate in reducing the energy footprint of the building.

Boulder Junction is the immediate neighborhood where Boulder Commons is situated. A pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, it is designed to be an alignment of community and commercial spaces. It includes bike paths and the new RTD transit station. Directly to the west of Boulder Commons is the bustling, multi-use Steel Yards neighborhood. Nearby is the 29th Street Mall and Google’s newly established Rocky Mountain headquarters.

For a bird’s-eye view of the impressive Boulder Commons solar installation (taken during the east wall panel installation), take a look at this drone footage.

Contact Independent Power Systems to help you get the best in solar PV design and installation for your home or business.








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