Humankind has to use renewable energy and reduce our carbon footprint for a sustainable future. This realisation leads to exciting innovations in architecture.
The idea of living independent of the electricity grid used to be a fringe fantasy, but it’s becoming more feasible by the day. With solar power ever more affordable, photovoltaic systems always feature prominently in off-grid buildings.
Carbon-neutral commercial building
The planned Madawaska Highlands Observatory Visitors Centre in Canada will be entirely off the grid – one of the first commercial buildings with a zero carbon footprint. The building is large: almost 2 800 square metres. All its electricity will come from solar panels feeding power into a massive battery storage of 1 000 kWh.
South African buildings
From cabin hideaways in private nature reserves to holiday retreats and luxurious homes, South African architects and builders are embracing the sun. PV installations and solar geysers are a welcome sight on the roofs of many new buildings, including low-cost housing. Here are just two South African examples:
- House Dale: This house near Knysna on the Garden Route has a timber frame and is clad in halved logs. The eco-friendly design incorporates double glazing and features solar power.
- House Orban: Also off-grid thanks to its photovoltaic system, this home makes the most of its position on a dune to maximise sea views and yet let the winter sun stream in through the north-facing windows. Large tanks below the house store the rainwater harvested from the roof.
Australia shares South Africa’s sunny climate. Many other areas of the world are also perfect for going off-grid with solar. Here are examples:
- Pump House, Australia: A small wooden cabin on stilts at a lake, this retreat home is entirely self-sufficient. Power comes from a PV installation, while rainwater is harvested from the roof and stored. Burning scrap wood from the surrounding brush provides heating. Local timber cladding gives the interior a warm glow.
- Stamp house, Australia: This futuristic-looking house perches in sensitive rainforest on the shoreline in Queensland. The building seems to hover above an engineered wetland. Every possible sustainability feature is incorporated in this house.
- McDowell Sonoran Preserve Visitor Centre, USA: This commercial building is the gateway to the Sonoran Desert near Phoenix, Arizona. In common with other off-grid buildings, it features solar panels, water harvesting and renewable building materials. The walls of locally sourced rammed earth blend the building into its surroundings.
Without solar panels, PV inverters and deep-cycle batteries, the entire concept of an off-grid building would be a non-starter. Instead, we now have sustainable solutions, well defined in the accompanying quote.
Solutions which meet the needs of today without compromising the ability of future generations to fulfill their own needs.
– Christel Vaenerberg