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Hawaii Prep School Energy Lab Goes Zero

Credits: ©2010 Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab

The Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab is 6,100 square foot renewable-energy research laboratory where students study, design, and evaluate renewable-energy technologies. The building supplies its own energy needs, harvests rainwater to meet its potable water needs, and provides natural ventilation and views to 100% of its occupied spaces. All power is generated from photovoltaic and windmill sources, and the building uses only eight percent of the energy it produces. A water capture system filters and supplies all of the building’s domestic water, with solar thermal panels providing hot water. The natural radiant cooling system is an alternative to conditioning. Natural daylight is controlled with polycarbonate skylights, wood screens and interior roller shades that work together. There are more than 250 sensors as part of a computerized system that regulates the building’s breathing, cooling/heating, watering and energy generation. Sophisticated energy modeling was conducted to inform the shape and fenestration of the building during the design. Hawaii Preparatory Academy is an independent coeducational school providing a full range of opportunities for students from kindergarten through grade 12. Constructed at a price of $650/sf (opened January 2010), the Energy Lab accommodates scientific study both inside and out, linking interior spaces with the surrounding landscape - continuously reminding students of their methods and ultimate goal.


Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab Roof

A traditional “Tropical Three Pitch Roof” design features a shaded lanai facing South, which produces a cool ground. Convection draws the hot air out of the peaked roof and brings the cooler air into the interior. The mauka (mountainside) winds travel over the roof creating an augmented vacuum in the broken peak. ©2010 Flansburgh Architects

By Kat Hoy , Architecture Daily 2010 - Conceived as a high school science building dedicated to the study of alternative energy, the new Energy Lab at Hawaii Preparatory Academy functions as a zero-net-energy, fully sustainable building. The project’s fundamental goal is that of educating the next generation of students in the understanding of environmentally conscious, sustainable living systems. Recently completed in January 2010, the Energy Lab today strives as a living laboratory, furthering its educational goals as a functioning example of sustainability.

The Energy Lab was developed in response to the science curriculum it houses. From small project rooms, to a large research center, to a laboratory, spaces were designed to encourage student discovery, exploration and experimentation. The building’s configuration facilitates scientific study both indoors and out, linking interior spaces with the surrounding landscape. Students are surrounded by the systems that they study, and constantly reminded of their methods. Hawaii Prep’s Energy Lab offers a continuous sustainable ‘teaching moment’.

The building is a LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge candidate. It attempts two exceptionally strict building programs, the latter applying material restrictions and point-of-manufacture radius limits. The building generates all power from photovoltaic and windmill sources. It presently uses only eight percent of the energy it produces, the remainder being net-metered back into the campus grid. The building captures and filters all of its own drinking and wastewater, and generates hot water from solar thermal panels. The building is entirely naturally ventilated, and employs an experimental radiant cooling system as an alternative to air conditioning. There are many other green features but perhaps the greatest sustainable contribution is the building’s alternative energy educational mission where students actively learn from the built environment that surrounds them.

Daylighting, Sun Shading & Views: Polycarbonate skylights, wood sun screens, and interior roller shades all work together to introduce, reflect and control natural day light. These components were strategically employed to satisfy foot candle minimums, tackle glare, and enhance views, resulting in a pleasantly lit interior environment.

Natural Ventilation: The building is entirely naturally ventilated. Building automated louvers maintain temperature and relative humidity levels to maintain interior comfort. If necessary exhaust fans are activated to induce airflow.

Experimental Radiant Cooling System: As an alternative to conventional air conditioning, a radiant cooling system was designed. At night water is circulated through thermal roof panels, cooled via lower evening temperatures, then stored in a below-grade tank for use as a chilled water for air handling units during warm afternoons.

Integration with the Site:

Located at the windward edge of campus to take full advantage of the abundant trade winds that accelerate down from the hillside above. The site faces due south to picturesque 14,000 foot Mauna Kea volcano. Due southern exposure optimizes solar thermal and photovoltaic panel performance and enables many interior building views directed toward the volcano and valley below. Given the favorable Hawaiian climate and the building’s dramatic hillside setting direct connections to the outdoors are enhanced via operable glass doors. An entry court is located to the east, a large teaching porch opens directly south, and a wind sheltered court to the west sponsors and outdoor, covered classroom. The topography of the hillside is reflected in the stepped, terraced arrangement of the building’s internal spaces, where storage tanks, solar panels and other systems have been strategically located to take advantage of this change in elevation.

Integration with the Community:

The Elab online, the facility’s website, is a virtual nexus of information. The site tracks local weather data from multiple remote stations, monitors building systems and energy use, studies water consumption and rain collection, and offers all of this valuable microclimate and building data to neighboring residents of Kamuela and to the virtual community beyond. The Energy Lab’s conference room has been designed to take advantage of Hawaii’s bridge between the West Coast and Asian Mainland time zones. Where formerly Hawaii may have suffered from geographical isolation, Hawaii Prep students now benefit by engaging both sides of the pacific during their regular school day via video conferencing.

Building Systems Monitoring:

Developed to function much like the human brain, the Energy Lab is capable of regulating its breathing, cooling/heating, watering and energy generation, via input from over 250 sensors. The Energy Lab self-regulates its interior climate, maintaining temperature, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide levels in all spaces at all times. Truly a marvel, this system optimizes building performance and is believed the reason for better than anticipated yields in performance thus far.

The school itself features education in sustainability.

Terraces - The building is sited on 216 acres of land for fieldwork on biofuels (sugar cane and Jatropha) and other energy projects. On the terraces, there is restoration work being done on local plants and trees in an attempt to study and learn about the biodiversity of the island before and after humans lived here.

Growing Taro - As a traditional native Hawaiian crop, kalo (taro) is being harvested on the terrace fields.

Biofuel Field Projects - Biofuels consisting of sugarcane and Jatropha will soon be grown on the terraces in the background to provide the source of fuel for our Energy Lab's "mule" transportation vehicle.

Tropical 3 Pitch Roof - A traditional “Tropical 3 Pitch Roof” design features a shaded lanai facing South, which produces a cool ground. Then convection draws the hot air out of the peaked roof and brings the cooler air into the living spaces. HPA’s Energy Lab building resonates with the Tropical 3 Pitch Roof design. The mauka (mountainside) winds travel over the roof creating an augmented vacuum. This vacuum in the broken peak is even more effective than the original 3 pitch roof design.

Lava Rock Walls - The local lava rocks in this poured concrete wall resonate to a similar wall in the HPA Chapel. The center stone above the midline in the front wall is from the donor’s ranch.

Relevant Books:
Towards Zero Energy Architecture

Toward a Zero Energy Home

Energy Free: Homes for a Small Planet


  Hawaii Prep Energy Lab Press Release (210 kb)


Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab

Hawaii Prep Energy Lab Video Link

Flansburgh Architects

Hawaii Prep Energy Lab Open House Video Link