Net-Zero Training Center Will Give Electricians Sustainable Careers

Electricians are about to get training in a new sustainable career – net-zero energy buildings. And they’ll get that education at the first net-zero training center in the US.

May 30 is the grand opening of the Zero Net Energy Training Center in San Leandro, California, a 46,000 square foot building. Notably, it is probably the first net-zero building to be a retrofit of an existing building – this one was built in the 1980s.  

It’s a joint project of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local Union 595 and the North California Chapter of the National Electrical Contractors Association.

"We wanted to build a new facility that showed more than the skills and knowledge of our IBEW members," says Victor
Uno, Business Manager of Local Union 595. "We wanted to demonstrate our commitment to energy conservation and
sustainability. We are helping to move California’s energy policies forward."

The training center will teach electricians advanced skills of building automation, lighting control and on-site power generation, all of which are features of the new building.

Wind turbines and solar panels surround the building with the ability to generate 139 kilowatts (kW) of power. That’s 10% more than the energy needed when every classroom is full, every
computer fired up and every office in use. A comparable conventional building would need 550 kW to meet those demands. 

Net-Zero Training Center

Skylights with automated windows on either side vent hot air and  draw in cool air from ground-level awning windows that are also automated.

The windows, which are tied into the building automation system, automatically open and shut as needed in conjunction with a variable refrigerant flow (VRF) heating and cooling system. Instead of piping heated air from a furnace to vents throughout the building, the VRF system uses liquid and gas refrigerant to cool and heat the building. The system can remove heat from one space and redistribute it to another where heat is needed. 

"In liquid form, refrigerant takes heat out of the surrounding area," explains Byron Benton. "Then you can take that gas in the system and redistribute to a part of
the building that might need heating. So we aren’t just independently heating a
cold area; when possible, we are redistributing heat that is already in the
building to where we want it."

"We do automation and lighting control. We do renewable energy generating.
The building management systems are all about automation. This is all IBEW
work," says Uno.

The key, says Benton, is training. Correctly installing and then integrating
these systems can only be done by highly skilled electricians with the right
training. Incorrectly installed wind turbines and solar panels fail sooner and
produce less power. Incorrectly installed building automation systems might not
work at all.

IBEW’s interest in these advanced skills extends back to 2002, when they added solar PV to their headquarters building in San Jose, California, which was also used to train electricians. The union later added solar systems on IBEW training centers in New York, California, New Jersey and other states to use for training.

These skills will highly valued in California as the state moves toward net-zero for new residential construction by 2020 and commercial construction by 2030.  

Take a tour:

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