Teaching greener building trades inside a green building (photos)

The Santa Fe Community College earlier this year began offering classes in a green building constructed with the latest in renewable energy and efficiency technologies.

Martin LaMonica
1 of 10 Martin LaMonica/CNET

Solar heat for cooling

SANTA FE, N.M.--The Santa Fe Community College opened a green building in January that houses its Sustainable Technologies Center, a site I got to tour this weekend during a road trip to northern New Mexico and southern Colorado with the Institutes for Journalism & Natural Resources.

The college expects to get LEED Gold-level certification or possibly Platinum.

In a unique feature, the building's cooling system is designed to run on solar energy. Seen here is one portion of a large array of solar thermal collectors made of evacuated tubes. The school chose evacuated tubes rather than flat solar collectors because it needs to generate high-temperature water, up to about 190 degrees, which is then pumped to an adsorption chiller.

The building also has a large hot-water storage tank designed to provide enough heat to cool the building for three days. Each of the solar collectors have a small solar photovoltaic panel on them to operate the pumps.

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LED mood lights

LED lighting is used throughout the building, one of the major levers designers used to lower energy use. Here are mood lights in the entry hallway, which change every several seconds. The technology behind LED lighting has improved significantly over the years, overcoming the situation of having different light output from two of the same fixtures and different light quality, said Randy Grissom, the college's dean of economic and workforce development. The school integrates lighting into its curriculum because one of the big barriers to LED lighting is training existing electricians on how to work with it, he said.

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Light tube

One of the few places in the building that doesn't have LED lights is its workshops, where these light tubes are installed as overhead lights. They have a high intensity discharge lamp at one end, and the light from those sources is diffused through the rest of the tube.

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Algae on tap

The Southwest, including New Mexico, is hot on algae for biofuels. Shown here is a prototype bioreactor to grow algae from a company spun out of the Santa Fe Community College's algae lab. Algae has great potential as a feedstock because it grows quickly and contains a lot of oil, which can be turned into transportation fuel.

New Mexico and Arizona have good conditions for growing algae because they have a lot of sunlight and many saline aquifers or brackish water sources that can be used to grow algae. In this lab, students study varied strains and how they can be used for different purposes, whether it's transportation fuel or nutraceuticals. Researchers are also looking at ways to use algae to treat waste water.

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Open source infrastructure

The Santa Fe Community College's green building cost a few million dollars less than traditional construction and will save the college money over time from better water- and energy-efficiency. One way that the architect saved on costs was by having all the mechanical systems totally exposed. That also allows students to see how the building's actual mechanical systems look and operate. One side effect of exposing everything is that contractors took great pains to do clean, well-designed work.

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Pressure house

This "house of pressure" is one of the tools used in the workshop for teaching green building techniques and weatherization. Teachers can create a test by flowing smoke into this house with a smoke stick (two blue items on bottom right), which shows how air would flow in an actual home. Students then need to diagnose if there's a problem in the ducting or air sealing, for example. Because so many homes in New Mexico are mobile homes, the lab has a similar house of pressure for mobile homes.

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Randy Grissom

Randy Grissom, director of the college's Sustainable Technologies Center, shows off a large array of solar thermal collectors on the roof of the Santa Fe Community College's green building. The college is unique in having sustainability curriculum to address different types of workers, including offering green-building skills to tradespeople.

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Solar furnace

This room is used to collect solar energy in the form of heat and to vent it into the building. The wall on the left is created entirely using Kallwall, a building material that allows in light and diffuses it yet is highly insulating. The building uses Kalwall in many places to take advantage of natural light. Here Kalwall allows for sunlight to come in and heat the room and a vent on the right brings the heat into the adjacent room. Last winter, the outside temperature was 20 degrees below, but this "solar furnace" room provided enough heat for the workshop next door.

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PV and wind station

One of the first programs the community colleges created was training for solar electric panel and wind turbine installers. It then branched out and created a curriculum to "green the trades."

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Solar thermal test bed

This spot is used for solar installers to learn how to install solar collectors. Plumbers getting certificates also have to learn about installation of solar hot-water panels.

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