Hines La Jolla CommonsBelieved to be the largest net-zero energy commercial office building in the United States, a 13-story office tower has just been completed in La Jolla, California. Tower II at La Jolla Commons is the new San Diego headquarters of LPL Financial LLC, an RIA custodian. In the weeks leading up to the office’s opening, more than 1,600 LPL employees from seven office buildings in La Jolla moved to the new facility. The 12 acre campus was developed by Hines and equity partner J.P. Morgan Asset Management.

The 415,000-square-foot office tower will achieve carbon neutrality on an annual basis through a combination of high-performance building design, directed biogas and on-site fuel cells that annually will generate more electricity than the building and tenant will use. While there are other small net-zero buildings in the U.S., LPL Financial at La Jolla Commons will be the largest and most ambitious net-zero office building in the U.S. developed for lease.

The building design incorporates a highly efficient under-floor air system, advanced curtain wall materials and many other features that reduce the energy required to operate the building. The tower utilizes three fuel cells to convert biogas into carbon-neutral electricity. The fuel cells, acquired from Bloom Energy, will generate approximately 5.0 million KWh of electricity annually, which is above what the building will consume. Total on-site energy production will be roughly equivalent to generating the electricity required to power 1,000 San Diego homes. The fuel cells convert methane into electricity in a non-combustion process. Sufficient methane for the system will be acquired from carbon-neutral sources, such as landfills and wastewater plants, and placed into the national natural gas pipeline system. This system will contribute to California’s ambitious goal of deriving a third of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020.

Bloom Energy fuel cell

Fuel cells sourced from Bloom Energy will generate approximately 5.0 million kWh of electricity annually, more than what the building will consume. The fuel cells convert the methane gas into electricity in a non-combustion carbon-neutral process. Surplus energy will be exported back to the utility grid for use by local San Diego consumers.

Gary Holtzer, Hines’ global sustainability officer, commented, “Our net-zero project at La Jolla Commons gives us a great foundation for furthering the use of carbon-neutral technologies and fuels. Our next step is to adapt what we have learned and apply it to an existing urban property in a less temperate environment. We believe that through this ongoing investment in sustainable R&D, we will lead the industry forward.”

In order to monitor and manage the tower’s reduced energy consumption, energy meters are located throughout the building, and all surplus power is pushed back to the grid through San Diego Gas & Electric. In addition, the tower is furnished with LED lights that feature automatic dimming capabilities based on the degree of available natural light, as well as occupancy sensors that turn lights off by detecting unoccupied offices.

Eighty-eight percent of the tower’s water consumption, nearly 2.5 million gallons annually, is recycled and used for irrigation and other building needs. Employee-focused sustainability programs encourage employees to recycle, compost and carpool. On-site charging stations for electric vehicles are also available for employee use at no cost.

Employee comfort and productivity was also a top priority for LPL Financial when designing the tower. With the help of ergonomists, customized furniture was designed to be easily adjusted with the touch of a button to accommodate various work styles. An under-floor air-distribution system with diffusers allows employees to control the flow of air into their individual workspaces.

In addition to these sustainable and ergonomic features, Tower II at La Jolla Commons also offers a number of employee amenities, including an on-site health and fitness center with a certified wellness manager and a cafeteria featuring healthy food options.

“At LPL Financial, we are ambitiously working to be an employer of choice. As part of this commitment, we knew that our work environment needed to make an investment both in our employees and in the San Diego community. We saw designing this state-of-the-art building as core to enhancing the productivity, capabilities and well-being of our employees, which in turn allows us to better serve our clients,” said Mark Casady, chairman and CEO of LPL Financial. “By bringing employees together in this beautiful and inspiring workspace, we are ushering in a new era of collaboration and innovation that we believe will yield benefits not only for employees but also for the clients we serve.”

Hines Senior Managing Director Paul Twardowski said, “It was a pleasure collaborating with LPL Financial to push the sustainability envelope. Such collaboration has resulted in an extremely effective business solution that we are confident will bring significant value to LPL Financial investors, clients and employees for years to come.”

Images courtesy of Hines