"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation

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Pacific Energy Center-20 Years of Helping Design Energy-Efficient Buildings

By David Kligman

Several years ago, Bay Area mechanical engineer Clark Bisel was working with a client to build a commercial office building in Santa Monica. It was a large project—six stories and 300,000 square feet—but one of the most valuable steps in the design was something much smaller.

Architecture program coordinator Sam Jensen Augustine, left, describes to Thomas Weaver how a daylight simulator works on a model building. (Photos by David Kligman.)

They visited PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center in downtown San Francisco to view a scale model of the building, about the size of a dollhouse. The model was placed on the heliodon, a tool that simulates direct sunlight and shadows. This simulation helps designers and engineers make building decisions, including the type of glass used in windows, overhangs, awnings and other shadings to maximize energy efficiency and comfort.

“They found it valuable because a lot of people don’t understand the impact of light until they can see it,” Bisel said.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

The purpose of the Pacific Energy Center, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this week, is to help engineers, architects, developers and building operators design and maintain energy-efficient commercial buildings.

The center is one of nine energy centers in California and one of three PG&E centers devoted to promoting energy-efficient buildings. The utility also has a center in Stockton intended for residential buildings and one in San Ramon for restaurants and buildings for the food industry.

Interactive exhibits

For the anniversary of the center in San Francisco on Tuesday (Dec. 6), past and present employees, clients, former California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld and other dignitaries attended a celebration at the center. Guests walked through the two-story center, which features interactive energy efficiency and solar exhibits.

For the past 20 years, the Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco has helped building developers and architects design energy-efficient commercial buildings.

“I think the main benefit is that the center created a place for the design community to come together and make buildings more energy efficient,” said Alameda mechanical engineer Mark Hydeman.

One of the most popular features of the center is its Tool Lending Library. Anyone working on short-term energy-efficiency projects can borrow building measurement equipment free of charge—everything from humidity probes to infrared cameras that calculate an object’s surface temperature.

The center hosts courses on energy efficiency, demand response and renewable energy, some at the center and others throughout PG&E’s territory. Since 2006, the center has provided more than 920 unique courses, 950 technical consultations and 600 outreach events. This year alone, the center has hosted about 8,000 students.

The center also has a library and a resource specialist to help building developers research energy efficiency on a number of topics, including lighting, climate change and green design.

Many successes

Robert Marcial, the center’s director, said there have been many successes over the past 20 years. He pointed to a facilities manager who said his 1.1 million-square foot data center has saved more than 3 million kilowatt hours in the past year due largely to participation in the center’s classes.

This Pacific Energy Center display shows how one type of glass blocks heat while the other doesn’t.

Helen Burt, PG&E’s senior vice president of customer care, said the center has had a big influence on energy efficiency since it opened.

“This is why California is the leader in energy efficiency,” she said. “This is why people come to this facility. This is why people come to California to learn. It’s because we teach and we innovate.”

Perhaps the center’s greatest legacy has been supporting and growing California’s energy-efficiency building workforce, said Ralph Cavanagh, energy program co-director for the energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“The greatest single unmet need for energy efficiency then and now is trained people,” Cavanagh said. “At a time when our educational institutions are still producing less than a thousand dedicated energy efficiency professionals a year for the whole United States, facilities like this are absolutely vital—arguably more important now than 20 years ago—and of incalculable value to the state and the country.”

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.