World’s first energy self-sufficient, multi-occupancy building

Anthony Capkun
March 10, 2018
Photo courtesy ABB.
Photo courtesy ABB.
March 10, 2018 - Working with partner Umwelt Arena Spreintenbach, ABB says it has helped create the world’s first off-grid multi-occupancy building that does not compromise on comfort.

Built in the northern lowlands of Switzerland and home to nine families, this building sources all of the energy residents need from the sun. The roof and the entire facade are clad with solar panels and 26 ABB solar inverters.

Although the building saves on energy at all levels, the residents need not sacrifice comfort, insists ABB. This is achieved through technologies and systems that acquire and store energy.

In one hour, the system harnesses enough energy to provide power for the families for a whole day, while the excess is either stored in lithium iron phosphate batteries or used to turn water into hydrogen fuel. This means the energy requirements of all nine families are met purely by renewables year-round, making the building 100% energy self-sufficient.

To help consume less of the energy, the household appliances must be very energy-efficient. Apart from energy-saving washing machines and refrigerators, the building automation system (BAS) helps keep energy consumption as low as possible.

“ABB-free@home converts these new apartments into intelligent homes, and our solar equipment supports the building’s self-sufficiency,” explained ABB’s Mike Mustapha. “Various functionalities of the [BAS] are used to reduce energy consumption while at the same time enhancing comfort. With the Goodbye button, for example, all standby appliances are switched off completely when leaving the apartment.”

For comfort and ease of operation, different scenes can be configured into the BAS so that dimmed dining lights can be differentiated from bright illumination for reading. The system also recognizes light combinations and offers them automatically for selection. When residents, for example, watch TV with the lights dimmed and curtains drawn, the building automation system notes this combination then provides it as an option.

The BAS also responds automatically to external conditions. When it is too warm in the apartment due to high-intensity sunlight on the window, the curtains will draw automatically. When a strong wind is blowing that could damage the blinds, they are drawn up. In this fashion, the BAS ensures not only safety and energy efficiency, but comfort.

“We look almost every day to see what our energy usage has been,” said Corinne Vogt, a resident of the building. “Around 80% usage is Green, 90% is Orange and then over 100% is Red. In the whole 16 months that we’ve lived here, none of the months have averaged as a Red month; even in January, when the conditions were really tough, we were only at around 90%.”

— Photos courtesy ABB.

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