Climate conscious architecture has been around for some time, but renowned Norwegian architecture firm Snøhetta is upping the bar – designing buildings that generate more energy than they consume throughout their whole lifecycle (calculated as 60 years). That includes the energy used in the procurement of building materials, construction and demolition. The generated energy has to be clean and renewable.
The concept, more specifically defined as the Powerhouse standard, has been conceived as a collaboration between Snøhetta and four partners: the property company Entra, the entrepreneur Skanska, the environmental organization ZERO, and the consulting company Asplan Viak. The group estimates that as much as 40% of global energy consumption can be attributed to buildings. That needs to addressed in the fight against climate change.
Lots of expertises are needed to make the task feasible, and the projects often feature more collaborators. Beyond all the conventional tricks for efficient heating, natural lighting and generating electricity with solar cells, innovation is also needed to make big construction projects not only environmentally net positive, but also financially. Situating the projects in the cold, sunlight-deprived North makes it even more ambitious, but the Powerhouse group is committed to pushing the limits of what is possible.
Here are some of Snøhetta’s projects aspiring to the Powerhouse standard:
Powerhouse at Brattørkaia, office building
Energy positive construction is reliant on passive heating and solar electricity generation. That’s a bit more difficult than usual when you take Norway’s cold dark winters into account. Powerhouse at Brattørkaia (in Trondheim) is the world’s northernmost energy positive office building and the first to be built in Norway. Energy efficiency is accomplished with heat pumps, heat exchangers and temperature stabilizing sea water from the adjacent fjord – resulting in an estimated annual energy consumption of 21 kWh per square meter. That’s less than half of the expected production of the solar cell covered roof – 49 kWh per square meter per year.
Optimization of window design and placement has attempted to maximize natural light while minimizing window surface area to prevent heat loss.
The Spark, data center
Data centers are notorious for their energy consumption, much of which is needed for cooling – and with digitalization and globalization they are sure to become increasingly common. The Spark re-conceptualizes the conventional data center by transforming it from a remote warehouse to a central sustainable energy hub. The heat generated by the data center is circulated to heat nearby buildings and when the air returns it can be reused to cool the data center. Along with solar panel rigs, and heat exchange, this circulatory system is expected to reduce overall energy consumption by 40%, and help the pilot town of Lyseparken in Os, Norway become the world’s first energy positive town.
”The heat generated by data centers represents a huge untapped potential in terms of energy capture that we wanted to explore further. By efficiently and sustainably exploiting excess energy that would otherwise go to waste, we can use technology to generously support health, recreation and the environment,” says Founding Partner at Snøhetta, Kjetil Trædal Thorsen.
The Spark is a pilot project, and if it proves successful it will be fully scalable and adaptable to be applied to other sites.
Arctic Circle calls Svart the world’s first energy positive hotel above the polar circle. The company wants to provide a sustainable tourism experience immersed in the fjord and with the backdrop of the Svartisen glacier (so named because of its dark blue ice: ‘svart’ + ‘is’).
The environmentally conscious building is estimated to consume 85% less energy than a conventional hotel of the same capacity. The lifetime energy consumption of the materials used are taken into consideration and solar panels are applied to the roof, harvesting enough energy to make the project net energy positive.
Powerhouse Drøbak Montessori, secondary school
Snøhetta’s school in Drøbak is a good example of the design implications of applying the Powerhouse standard. Since energy generation is achieved with solar panels, roofs must optimized in terms of size and angle.
Making the school economic and energy efficient also requires a compact volume and high U-values using materials that minimize the energy needed for production. All these considerations jointly influence the building’s shape and aesthetics in what Snøhetta calls the principle of ‘form follows environment’.
Powerhouse Telemark, office building
The Powerhouse office building in Telemark is another prestige project located in the small town of Porsgrunn – thereby demonstrating that there can be a demand for projects of the same high standard outside of big metropolitan regions. Beyond tricks like a solar panel roof and optimized window placing it uses energy wells below the building for efficient heat management, and manages to reduce energy consumption by 66% compared to other new buildings of the same type.
“I hope we will be plagiarised and copied, replicated in all seven continents,” Norwegian real-estate developer Emil Eriksrød of R8 Property told Dezeen.
Among Powerhouse collaborators, the team includes aluminium company Hydro, aluminium profile company Sapa. While aluminium production is highly energy intensive, Hydro is ambitiously aspiring to becoming carbon neutral from 2020 and developing “the world’s most energy and climate-efficient aluminium production technology.” The Powerhouse Telemark will hopefully be a chance to demonstrate that even using aluminium in construction can result in a net positive result.
The project also features charging stations for electric cars and a bicycle garae, of course.
Kjørbo, renovated office building
The office building in Kjørbo demonstrates that the Powerhouse concept is not only applicable to new spectacular designs – it’s just as important and doable to transform old buildings. Since the office building was built in 1980 the annual energy consumption has been 250 kWh per square meter. After Snøhetta’s redesign and renovation the energy consumption will be low enough to be covered by the newly installed solar panels producing 41 kWh per square meter per year.
The Kjørbo project was the first Powerhouse project and the group claimsthat it was probably the first renovated energy-positive building in the world.