Norway's Energy-Positive Movement to Fight Climate Change
The country now has a suite of buildings that generate more energy than they use. The European Union has a target of making all new buildings zero-energy by 2020, but in Norway, carbon neutrality isnt enough. A consortium in Oslo made up of architects, engineers, environmentalists, and designers is creating energy-positive buildings in a country with some of the coldest and darkest winters on Earth. If you can make it in Norway, you can make it anywhere, says Peter Bernhard, a consultant with Asplan Viak, one of the Powerhouse alliance members. Bernhard says Powerhouse began in 2010 with a question: Is it possible to not only eliminate the carbon footprint of buildings, but to also use them as a climate-crisis solution? It was a lofty goal. According to the European Commission , buildings account for 40 percent of energy usage and 36 percent of carbon-dioxide emissions in the EU. But after undertaking several energy-positive projectsbuilding a new Montessori school, retrofitting four small office buildings, building a few homes, and breaking ground on two new office buildingsPowerhouse has found the answer to the 2010 question to be an emphatic Yes. In 2019, the collectives biggest project to date will open to the public: Powerhouse Brattrkaia , in the central Norwegian city of Trondheim. Brattrkaia is an eight-story office building that will produce 485,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) annually. For reference, the average Norwegian home uses about 20,000 kWh of power a year. (In the United States, the yearly household average is 10,399 kWh ). Brattrkaia will, in effect, become a mini power plant that can supply electricity to Norways publicly owned grid. Its surplus energy will also compensate for the power used to produce its building materials. That, says the Snhetta architect Jette Hopp, is unique; prevailing definitions for energy-positive buildings dont include materials embodied energy. Hopp says accounting for that energy makes for a more complex development process. Recycled materials are favored above all. New materials are diligently traced. The design process is front-loaded with engineering expertise. Alliance members work together to make sure every design choice has a dual purpose. Nothing is by coincidence, Hopp says. We try to give things multiple functions, and that directly leads to less embodied energy since we dont have to double or triple up systems. Thats in the smart thinkingbut you need to have the knowledge of all the different layers of infrastructure works in order to find synergies. That meticulousness is apparent at Powerhouse Kjrbo. The retrofit project, composed of four short office buildings in a business park outside of Oslo, was the first to be completed by the collective. During Septembers Oslo Innovation Week, Bernhard, of Asplan Viakwhose offices are located at Kjrbogave a detailed tour of one of the buildings. Motion sensors click lights on and off as people move about the building. An internal spiral staircase doubles as a ventilation shaft. Rooftop solar panels collect energy on bright days, energy wells store it, and geothermal power compensates on colder, grayer days. ( Track Kjrbos performance here .) Read: The solar industry has paid off its carbon debts The buildings concrete frame was recycled, and the old exterior glass windows were reused to make interior partitions, which help maximize daylight. Additional insulation panels were made from old plastic bottles. Rather than use energy-intensive metal, a Japanese wood-burning technique called shou sugi ban was used to blacken Kjrbos new facade. Prior to refurbishment, the building consumed an average of 250 kWh per square meter, Bernhard says. That has been reduced by 85 percent, he added. Kjrbos excess energy is used to heat another building and to power a nearby hydrogen-car refueling station. The hope is to make energy-positive neighborhoods next, Bernhard says. Energy-positive construction has piqued other countries curiosityparticularly Germanysbut it still hasnt had its breakthrough moment. Hopp says that, so far, all of Powerhouses requests have come from inside Norway. Snhetta on its own, however, has an international reputation for pairing elements of sustainabilitysocial or environmentalwith bold yet rational design. In 2018, the architecture firm finished the retrofit of an old house on Harvards Cambridge campus that will serve as a prototype and living laboratory for energy-positive construction. The firm also built an extension of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the pedestrianized revamp of Times Square, Calgarys new Central Library, Le Monde s new Paris headquarters , and a building in Toronto entirely dedicated to giving Ryerson University students badly needed study space. Back in Norway, Snhetta and other Powerhouse members are working on the worlds first energy-positive hotel inside of the Arctic Circle. The mock-up for the Svart hotel shows a ring-shaped building jutting out over icy waters, just a few steps away from the Svartisen glacier. In Trondheim, the design of the not-yet-finished Brattrkaia shows a striking building informed by nature. The roof slopes to maximize solar harvesting. A cylindrical atrium through the center of the building brings natural light in from two sides. A slightly curved facade, paired with double-skin glass, captures Nordic winds and repurposes them for ventilation, while also reducing the wind-tunnel effect on the ground. We really let the environmental aspects drive the design, Hopp says. Read: The weird, wooden future of skyscrapers The commitment to social and environmental sustainability is not unique to Powerhouse. Norway is wholly dedicated to reducing carbon-dioxide emissions across the country, with the ultimate goal of decarbonizing transportation altogether. For these efforts, Oslo was elected the 2019 European Green Capital . Powerhouse isnt the only group dedicated to energy-positive construction; Haptic Architects and the Nordic Office of Architecture are planning an energy-positive airport city for Oslo. Hopp suggests this kind of environment-focused collectivism is partly informed by Norways right to roam , a right codified by law that gives all Norwegians the freedom to pitch a tent almost anywhere they want. Hopp says Snhetta has integrated a version of the right to roambeing able to freely walk in, under, or upon a building as a member of the general publicinto its work. We believe that architecture is one of the most important cultural expressions of our time, and that it also has a social impact, she says. When you have a generous building that is also able to include society, that changes how you perceive cities and the built environment around youthe singular you as well as the plural. It makes a big difference. This post appears courtesy of CityLab .