DER, Energy Efficiency, Solar, Storage, Utility Integration

Avista embarks on project to create zero-carbon, shared energy eco-district

The zero-energy Catalyst building sets a new vision for grid-optimal design. Credit: McKinstry.

The built environment consumes 40 percent of all energy and produces 40 percent of all carbon emissions. Half of that energy is wasted due to process and equipment inefficiencies. Building owners and occupants are demanding better as social pressure drives interest in advanced technologies, sustainable operations and on-site renewable energy.

Unfortunately, the energy value chain is not designed to deliver.

Building plug loads and variable space-conditioning requirements of today’s built environment are significant drivers of utility peak demand. The current regulatory framework provides limited scope for a utility to actively manage or incentivize a customer’s load or demand profile. For commercial customers, this is further separated by the tenant-landlord relationship, as lease agreements typically do not incentivize tenants to conserve energy conservation or reduce demand.

Distributed renewables are a growing concern, pushing energy generation away from utilities to the grid edge. Limited visibility beyond the meter makes it challenging to manage energy loads and plan for needed infrastructure investments. That limited visibility extends beyond the lease, making it hard to influence tenant behavior.

Moreover, modern construction practices don’t help. Every building is designed, built and operated as a unique, standalone island. Little consideration is given to grid impact or how energy systems and resources can be shared across property lines. The result makes it increasingly more expensive to maintain buildings and grid infrastructure. The transition from construction to occupancy further compounds the issue.

The most advanced energy systems mean nothing if tenants can’t – or won’t – use them.

The South Landing Opportunity

The South Landing development currently under construction in Spokane, Wash., sets a new vision to balance the energy and demand performance of the built environment with the capacity constraints and needs of the utility grid. The project was born out of a vision Avista chairman and former CEO Scott Morris had for creating the five smartest blocks in the world. He found a partner – McKinstry – who shared his vision and passion. Today, Avista and McKinstry’s unique partnership demonstrates what’s possible when utilities and developers collaborate to unite the energy value chain and transform building design, lease framework and optimized operations.

The Catalyst building and the Scott Morris Center for Energy Innovation are the first two buildings under construction as part of the South Landing development. When complete, Catalyst and the Morris Center will demonstrate how buildings can eradicate waste and operate in harmony with the grid.

The Catalyst Building

Catalyst is a zero-energy, zero-carbon building that will soon deliver five stories and 159,000 square feet of leased space. The building features the latest energy systems, including solar photovoltaics (PV), exhaust heat recovery, thermal and battery storage and a near passive house building envelope. Catalyst also leverages locally sourced cross-laminated timber (CLT) produced by Katerra’s new factory in the Spokane Valley.

The building will serve as an innovation hub where academia and private industry intersect. Eastern Washington University (EWU) will bring 1,000 students from its computer science, electrical engineering and visual communication and design programs. The building will also house research and development programs for McKinstry and Avista. Studying alongside private industry, EWU students will be immersed in a living laboratory setting that will spark new ideas to further transform our built environment and solve societal problems.

The Morris Center and Central Energy Plant

The Morris Center is a four-story building with 40,000 square feet of leased offices and a full-service restaurant. The facility also houses a central energy plant to power the facility and its neighboring Catalyst building through a shared energy model called an eco-district. As future buildings are added within South Landing, the eco-district’s shared energy footprint will expand to meet the buildings’ energy needs.

The Morris Center and Central Energy Plant.

McKinstry engineers performed more than 40,000 energy model simulations to design the central energy plant and eco-district. Deployed systems include solar PV arrays, thermal energy and battery storage systems, high-performance variable air volume (VAV) systems and dedicated outdoor air systems (DOAS).

Grid-Optimal Operations

The South Landing eco-district has the capability to aggregate and control the entire campus electric consumption and balance this against the needs of both the development and the grid. The central energy plant will aggregate site renewable generation with energy storage to provide operational flexibility to heighten economic value for the building owners and the utility grid. In this case, the eco-district becomes the manager of the energy resources supplied to the South Landing campus buildings and their tenants.

Thousands of IoT sensors and integrated building management systems will provide visibility beyond the meter. Machine learning layers will help actively manage energy loads and balance on-site energy demand, generation and storage. Active energy management combined with structured incentives can improve grid utilization, reducing the need for system capacity and deferring planned network augmentation. Active energy management also enables other use cases, such as shaping building load to better match on-site variable generation.

The eco-district is empowered and incentivized to drive down operational costs – breaking through the traditional utility-customer (meter) and landlord-tenant (lease) barriers. As part of this effort, the operational flexibility of the eco-district will be captured, enabling South Landing to deliver grid-optimal operations. That’s only possible because of the unique partnership between Avista and McKinstry. Advanced technologies and new approaches to cross-meter and cross-lease collaboration were designed to drive outcomes for each major stakeholder.

Structured tenant leases will ensure the South Landing vision is achieved. Each tenant must meet pre-set energy metrics. Leases will also stipulate service level agreements for temperature and energy consumption, changing the buildings from blind kilowatt-hour consumers into long-term assets that serve the grid. It turns demand response into autonomous demand management.

Early collaboration enabled this outcomes-based approach by involving the utility, developer, general contractor and tenant from day one.

Catalyst and the Morris Center will begin serving EWU students in fall 2020. South Landing is intended to serve as a living laboratory to formulate and test what the built environment must become to meet increasing complexity and rising social pressure. It is a test case for what’s possible when the right players partner to create a high-performing, grid-optimal built environment.

Avista and McKinstry will use the South Landing eco-district to research and enhance how buildings integrate with modern utility grids. The Morris Center will serve as a living laboratory where the brightest minds from the energy sector can come together to test ideas and innovate.

South Landing is an example of how utilities and developers can collaborate to drive technological innovation and accelerate meaningful transformation of the utility business model. McKinstry and Avista envision the eco-district model as a platform and gateway to an affordable clean energy future.


Authors John Gibson and Nick Edney will be giving a presentation on The Eco-District – Transforming the Utility Business Model at DISTRIBUTECH International, which takes place in San Antonio, Texas, USA January 28-30. Their presentation is on Thursday, January 30 at 8:30 AM. If you haven’t registered for DTECH yet, do it now!