Energy | Sustainability

Energy-Efficient Home Also Powers Car

Germany is once again leading the world toward a more sustainable future, introducing an ultra-efficient home capable of producing twice as much energy as it consumes.  The surplus energy can be used to charge an electric vehicle, or be exported to the grid.

The house was designed by a team lead by Professor Werner Sobek at the Stuttgart University Institute for Lightweight Structures and Conceptual Design (ILEK).  Dubbed the Efficiency House Plus, the 1400 sq. ft. home is a model for the future.  A prototype was built near Berlin, and a family of four is scheduled to inhabit the home for 15 months as part of a live test beginning in March, 2012.  Until then, the building is open to the public.

The sleek and stylish home uses a combination of opaque and glass surfaces to minimize heat transfer through the building’s exterior, and maximize natural daylight.  This minimizes the need for artificial lighting, heating, and cooling, which are the largest sources of energy use.  A passive solar design allows warm sunlight in during the cold winter months when the sun is low in the sky, and provides shade in the summer to keep the home cool.

A combination of solar technologies are used to generate power in the home.  Solar thermal energy is captured and stored, and used to heat water and the interior space.  Solar photovoltaic panels convert sunlight to electricity for use in the home, which is stored in batteries during peak production, and used to charge one or more electric vehicles overnight.  As excess energy is produced, the surplus is fed onto the grid, and the homeowners are compensated for the electricity.

A predictive energy management system is used to anticipate how much energy the house will consume.  This intelligence enables the system to selectively use energy from either the grid or internal storage, and even goes so far as to include weather conditions in the energy modeling.

What’s perhaps most remarkable is that all of the building materials are recyclable, so that at the end of the home’s lifecycle, none of the building components are landfilled.  This is a stunning accomplishment, embracing a cradle to cradle approach to building.

“We want to show people that already today it is possible to live completely from renewable energy,” said German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer.  The German government is investing millions into research and subsidies to prove that renewable energy is the key to their future.  The typical family of four pays what equates to over $150 per year in taxes to support such measures.  “The Efficiency House Plus will set standards that can be adopted by the majority in the short term,” Ramsauer said.

All of the major automakers in Germany – Audi, BMW, Daimler, Opel and Volkswagen – are on board with the project, providing electric cars to be used during the 15 month test period.  The intent is to demonstrate that energy-efficient buildings and electric mobility are the primary keys to quickly implementing a new energy strategy.

“Buildings and transport make up some 70 percent of our total energy consumption,” Ramsauer said. “In order to reach our climate goals, we want…to view buildings and transport as a single unit, [and] demonstrate that it is possible for a family to use energy produced by its home for transport.  [This is the kind of innovative idea] that can and should help Germany become a leading provider of – and market for – electromobility.”

For more information, check out SmartPlanet.com’s article In Germany House Powers Car.  Next month I’ll write about the town where this home was built – a town powered entirely by renewable energy with zero unemployment.  If you can’t wait until then, check out this story on ABC News: All Eyes on German Renewable Energy Efforts.

This was published in the Going Green section of the February 2012 issue of Spirit Seeker magazine.

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