WANDO – Mayor Joseph P. Riley likes to crow that Charleston is a city of firsts: home to the nation’s first chamber of commerce, first railroad, first municipal college.
Add to that list a sophisticated office building that he and other supporters hail as a leading-edge model for energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. Its unusual design and other features are expected to slash utility bills, conserve water and reduce emissions.
“This development is appropriate in fitting into that context – a city and community of firsts,” Riley said before a recent tour of the futuristic workplace. “It’s such a valuable prototype of what we have to do.”
The 34,000-square-foot structure on Clements Ferry Road in Berkeley County is the new corporate headquarters for Cambar Software Inc. CSI, a locally based high-tech outfit, plans to move about 100 jobs to its new offices this month.
The key energy-saving feature of the building is a new generation of roof-mounted solar collectors developed by a University of Chicago physicist. As the sun bakes the 560 tilted panels, a network of tubes is heated, converting the water inside to steam that can reach temperatures as high as 400 degrees. The thermal energy then can be deployed to warm up chilly rooms, supply hot water to sinks and generate up to 12 kilowatts of electricity.
“It equates to dollars pretty quickly,” said John F. Myles III, chief executive of Raleigh-based Duke Solar. The company, a partnership between a Duke Energy subsidiary and Solar Roof International Inc., supplies the panels.
The patented collectors also deflect excess sunlight back into the atmosphere, reducing cooling loads by about 30 percent and cutting air-conditioner emissions, Myles said.
“It makes your roof an asset instead of a liability,” he added.
The sun plays an equally important role in lighting the building’s interior. For the most part, CSI’s nine-to-fivers will work under diffused natural light, which will stream through a series of strategically positioned windows above their cubicles.
Conventional glare-free lights will flicker on only when special sensors tell them to, such as at night or on very overcast days, further reducing cooling needs.
In fact, the air conditioner is the only major building component that will rely entirely on the local power company. Yet even that system will run off the sun after a planned building expansion allows for the addition of more rooftop solar panels, Myles said.
Meanwhile, an on-site water collection unit has been installed to capture up to 16,000 gallons of rain, which will be used to flush toilets and irrigate.
“This is the only building of its kind in the United States that puts all of this together in one package,” marveled Berkeley County Supervisor Jim Rozier.
Even President Bush has taken notice. He recently dispatched a U.S. Department of Energy official to inspect and endorse the project.
“I know there are a lot of rate-payers in California who would kill to have an energy-efficient building like this,” said Robert K. Dixon, deputy assistant secretary of energy for the office of power technologies.
All told, Duke Solar estimated the building’s design and features will result in energy savings of up to 40 percent. That, in turn, will lower carbon dioxide emissions – which are created by coal-fired power plants and have been linked to the greenhouse effect – by 86 tons a year, the company said.
The financial risk-taker in this venture is Carolina Solar Associates President Gorden Timmons, a locally based businessman and developer with a background in the heating and air-conditioning industry.
Timmons, who has known Myles for years, thinks Duke Solar’s savings figures are conservative.
He also called his decision to back the project “a no-brainer.”
“Their technology is real,” said Timmons, noting that heating and air-conditioning giant Carrier is installing Duke Solar’s equipment on a 750,000-square-foot plant in South America.
He also said the cost of going green is comparable to building a conventional office building.
“We’re coming in at under $100 a square foot, which is pretty nice,” Timmons said.
Another believer in the technology is television personality Art Linkletter, who sits on the board of Duke Solar.
“I help where I can, open doors where I can,” said the well-connected octogenarian.
Linkletter, the original host of the TV classic “Kids Say The Darndest Things,” was in Charleston two weeks ago to visit the CSI project.
“This is a new ceiling for solar energy, a new perspective,” he said.