Visiting the Energy Lab on Hawaii

Learning from Great Achievements

It was just like a Christmas gift.
We happened to be at the right place just before the new year to get truly inspired for our goals of 2018. The Energy Lab is a school building of the Hawaiian Preparatory Academy which is lead by Dr. Bill Wiecking. The Physician developed the plans within one year and was able to realize it through a donor who fully supported and shared his vision.


The Energy Lab in Kamuela, Hawai’i [1]

It is “designed to challenge standards of sustainability and collaborative education. The Energy Lab is predicated on the notion that our buildings can inspire us to think differently, to teach differently, and to free our creative spirit. It is the first school building in the world to be zero energy, water and waste, it is a space for student projects to thrive and grow.”[3]

And it truly does carry its sustainable spirit day by day. It is well thought through till its last detail and corner on the floor plan. The Energy Lab utilizes its location to its fullest to be net-positive.
It therefore even contributes to the schools energy grid.


The Energy Lab in Kamuela, Hawai’i

This starts with the right design focusing on natural ventilation to lower cooling demands but also making use of the high solar radiation in Hawaii’s warm and sunny climate. As seen in the picture, Wiecking refined traditional natural ventilation building methods by opening the roof and using the wind on the back of the facade to create a vacuum that actively pulls fresh colder air through the room. Terracing the building into three larger rooms, each working by this principle, meant that this effective natural airflow could be ensured even when closing off and separating rooms from each other. These roofs are now fully covered with PV Panels which even work bi-facial on the edges to also make use of the grounds reflection for higher efficiency.


Right: Scheme of the natural ventilation. Middle: Roof plan. Right: View from the terrace.

Seemingly everything is monitored through sensors ranging from lighting over water and energy to even humidity and CO2 levels.
This amount of data allows for analysis and optimizations of the system to reach its fullest effectivity over time.
But this of course also leaves room for education.
The students are able to see the working of the whole building on an interface which also lets them actively interact with and learn from the system.


Left: House control system. Right: First floor plan

The Energy Lab as an educational facility itself is prepared for ever changing student and project needs through a very spacious and flexible design. It gives the creative space for the students to live out their passions and interests ranging from robotics over brain or acoustical research to of course energy monitoring and environmental sciences. We wish we could have already had these opportunities in our middle and upper schools till the age of 18…
Annually there are about two students on average who make it to the big american universities like Stanford, Berkeley or Harvard. From there they go on to work for Google or SpaceX.
Dr. Bill Wiecking himself runs projects for NASA from the Energy Lab.
This alone should already show the worth of a fully sustainable building environment.

The building has achieved, LEED Platinum (similar to our european BREEAM) and a Living Building Challenge certification, which is a one year sustainable performance based standard. An endurance measure if you like to also prove your design and working system over the test of time.

We are grateful to have seen this achievement and we can now fully agree,
The Energy Lab is truly “a functioning example of sustainability” [2]


Ming with Director Dr. Bill Wiecking


For more publications about the building visit:

The architects website: [1]

An article of the international Living future institute: [2]

The schools web presentation: [3]