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Energy efficiency is a key design driver in everything from smartphones to cars, and from dishwashers to houses. And an experimental solar-powered house, designed by Valencia’s Cardinal Herrera University and sponsored by Omron, has shown just how far it is possible to go with energy efficient buildings.
It was created for the 2010 Solar Decathlon in Madrid, and was one of 17 designed, built, and operated by universities from all over Europe, America and Asia. The houses, which had to be energy-efficient, habitable and economically feasible, were assessed in ten different categories, ranging from affordability to engineering: visitors to the Decathlon were also asked to pick their favourite.
The Valencia team’s house scored well in several categories, including industrialisation and market viability, where it won first prize, and in architecture, engineering, construction and innovation. It was also most popular among visitors.
Sustainability of the house was based on five key attributes:
• use of solar power
• reduced energy consumption
• increased energy efficiency
• use of non-hazardous, reusable and environmentally sustainable materials
• optimised water use
The designers of the house used a number of innovative solutions to minimise energy consumption, including integrating solar panels into the house’s façades, so the walls and roof act as energy collectors. The 70 m2 “intelligent roof” is a brilliant concept, combining three different types of solar collector, which can be separately deployed to meet the energy requirements of the house. Photovoltaic units and thermal blocks are used to produce both electricity and direct hot water, and they automatically fold and unfold to meet the house’s energy needs at different times. The effect of the thermal roof is maximised during the winter months to enable the solar collectors to make the most what radiated light is available.
An equally elegant solution was used to maximise comfort which was one of the assessment categories. Passive bioclimatic systems were developed, including natural lighting and cross-ventilation, and a solar cooling system was developed to provide internal climate control. Here, rising warm air is cooled by cold water pipes running in the ceiling of the house: the cold water comes from an absorption machine that is fed with water at 90ºC from the house’s solar collection thermal system, making a “virtuous circle” that supports the designers’ objective of zero energy consumption.
Energy efficiency even extended to the kitchen, which had a thermal oven powered by a series of oil-carrying pipes. Here, the fluid is heated by solar thermal collectors to temperatures up to 240ºC – more than enough for the most discerning chef.
The house was not, of course, designed for commercial use. However, it’s a fine example of how creative thinking allied to the use of readily available technology – Omron supplied standard PLCs, programmable touch-screen terminals and inverters – can create large-scale energy efficient buildings. It looks pretty good, too.