Geothermal and St. Petersburg’s first commercial net zero building

﷯Four or five years ago, I was visiting with my good friend and geothermal associate Carl Orio of Water Energy Distributors in New England, as Carl, Greg Cunniff (lead application engineer at Taco-HVAC), and I continued our work on writing Modern Geothermal HVAC Engineering and Control Applications for  McGraw-Hill Education. I got a call from All Florida Management about a net zero building they were doing in St. Petersburg, Florida, and that they wanted a little consulting help.

Always thankful for the opportunity to provide input, I obliged and visited with Brian Hartley on my return to Florida. We had some substantive interactions, and he indicated that he was grateful for my help. It turns out that this net zero structure was a strip Mall set up with room for several tenants, and the anchor tenant was to be the Sierra Club, Florida.

﷯St. Petersburg, Florida got its first net zero energy, fully self-sustaining commercial office building in December, 2012. Like so many other energy-independent buildings, the path was fundamentally simple: reduce energy consumption as low as possible, make up the rest with solar photovoltaic power.  

Over the past few years, I’ve visited the building a few times, always stopping in to visit the folks at the Sierra Club Headquarters for Florida. Recently, I stopped by while touring some central Florida geothermal projects with an international client, and the Sierra Club willingly shared some of its experiences and thoughts on the building’s operation and how everything has been going.

I asked them how well the building has been operating in a net zero capacity, knowing full well that cooling hours in central Florida are high. They told me the landlord reported that the building has produced 40 percent more energy than it has consumed. They also noted that the building is fully occupied (Sierra Club is the anchor tenant, but there are other leasees in the center).

﷯When asked how the geothermal cooling is performing, they said that they are “… extremely happy …” with the systems’ performance and the comfort of the air conditioning.

Since the building has all electric geothermal heating, cooling and hot water, along with the normal complement of office equipment, I asked whether the Sierra Club is charged for electric. They said that they have no electrical charges at all. When coupled with the fact that I saw a couple of electric cars outside, I thought how remarkably liberating it must be to have no electrical utility charges and no gasoline costs for their cars.

﷯I asked what their recommendation would be to anyone desiring to go net zero, and they cited three steps to follow. “First, design the building envelope tight and well insulated. Second, put in geothermal cooling and heating. Third, put in enough solar energy to cover the rest.”

If you’re not already involved in the geothermal HVAC business, now would be a great time to jump in. Geothermal contractors are busy; one of the more difficult portions of my job is to help clients find experienced geothermal HVAC contractors. Contact GEO and IGSHPA and get the training and information to get your company on the geothermal bandwagon!

Sierra Club’s Florida Headquarters are located at 1990 Central Avenue in Saint Petersburg, and the building is listed on the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Building Data Base. Next time you’re in Florida visiting or on vacation, stop in, get a charge for your electric car, and tell the folks at Sierra Club the Jay sent you. 

Jay Egg is a geothermal consultant, writer and the owner of EggGeothermal. He has co-authored two textbooks on geothermal HVAC systems published by McGraw-Hill Professional. He can be reached at jayegg.geo@gmail.com.

All Florida Management Group, Inc. is a vertically integrated company founded in 2009 that incorporates solar, construction, management, design, engineering, marketing and consulting that focuses on net zero project developments. Their build/design/consulting mission is to reach or exceed grid independence for smaller commercial buildings ranging from 15,000 sq. ft. or less using solar and innovative building technologies.       
Sierra Club Florida is the nation’s largest and oldest environmental organization with more than 2 million members and supporters nationwide. When not exploring and enjoying nature, Sierra Club Florida staff and volunteers lead campaigns to restore the Everglades, protect wilderness and wildlife, clean up polluted air and water, and move the Sunshine State to a “net zero,” clean energy and transportation future.                                                                              

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