In a time when the entire world is debating on climate change issues, which became even more and more obvious that we cannot ignore anymore, and which is basically caused by our abusive use of fossil fuels and energies, the use of renewable energy sources has now become relevant.
One of the certainties of the 21st century is that architecture and building design will play a decisive role in envisioning new energy options and alternatives through the innovative use of renewable energy sources that are going to impact the building industry in the future.
Here we enumerate the 5 most important renewable energy sources along with some examples that showcase how they’re used in building design.
1. Solar Energy
Solar power is generated from sunlight, which is converted into electricity through solar photovoltaic panels. It is on top of the list of renewable energy sources, as it is sustainable, safe, reliable, and clean. It is also one of the easiest and cheapest renewable sources of energy to install in your home. For now, solar technologies in the form of photovoltaics and thermal collectors are available at competitive prices. However, their use has not been to the expectation especially in the building sector to replace the use of fossil fuels.
The main reason for these technologies not being popular in building integration is the lack of good architectural quality rendered not meeting desired design considerations. The good news is that architects are exploring new innovative approaches in terms of design and implementation in order to match the modern technological components to the scale, proportion, material, color scheme, and balance of buildings.
Wind power is generated from atmospheric, temperature, and pressure changes that force the movement of air. Wind power is safe, reliable, and clean, with no greenhouse gases emitted during the generation of electricity. Today, the use of wind energy is becoming one of the most developed areas of alternative energy. Throughout Europe, there are wind power plants, but they are not able to fully provide the population and the city all the necessary energy. This raises the question about the possibility of implementing wind turbines on buildings, as engineering support each home, thus providing the necessary energy to the population of cities, using an only renewable energy source. It is becoming a cost-effective source of renewable energy, with one wind turbine generating enough electricity to power a house.
Another utility of wind in building design is to use it for natural ventilation and temperature regulation. Nothing is more rational than using the wind, a natural, free, renewable, and healthy resource, to improve the thermal comfort of a project. The awareness of the finiteness of the resources and the demand for the reduction in energy consumption has removed air-conditioning systems as the protagonist of any project and many architects and engineers are turning to this passive system to improve the thermal comfort in their interiors. New methods are being explored in terms of using the air in buildings design, but also ancient and traditional methods are being revisited, like Wind towers for example, which a traditional Iranian architectural element that creates natural ventilation by catching the wind from above and directing it down to ground level. This method was adopted in the very famous Masdar City in Abu Dhabi to ventilate all the narrow streets in the city and manages to cool the streets up to 5 degrees Celsius.
Hydropower is the power derived from the kinetic energy of falling or flowing water. It can be generated from streams, lakes, and rivers or man-made structures such as dams, lagoons, and reservoirs. It relies on water, which is a clean and renewable source of energy. The water that has been used to generate electricity is naturally recycled by the ‘water cycle’ through which water evaporates, forming clouds that then rain on the Earth, restarting the cycle. This technology is well-proven and reliable, there is little use of fuel in the generation, and so emissions are very low.
Hydropower is directly attached to water sources, which made it a little challenging to integrate into building design and projects that are not power plants, Thus architects started recently tackling these issues while looking for solutions to introduce this types of renewable energy in urban areas depending on the availability of water sources.
One of the most interesting projects that took the concept of hydro energy to a whole new level is the Hydroelectric Power Station in Kempten Germany by Becker Architects. As it lies on the left bank of the Iller River Kempten in the Allgaeu, a medieval place, at the foothills of the Alps; the new, highly efficient hydroelectric power station now supports approximately 3,000 households with 10.5 million kilowatts/hours of environmentally friendly power per year.
4. Geothermal power
It is clean, renewable, and popular because it can be harnessed from almost anywhere in the world to produce heat and electricity. Historically recognized as hot springs, geothermal energy is commonly used today for residential heating and cooling, and electricity generation. Although geothermal is not the most widely used source of energy, it is by far one of the most efficient and sustainable systems today and many recent and near-future projects are now integrating this solution into their designs. Iceland is considered a leader in geothermal energy as its facilities generate 25% of the county’s total energy production!
Bioenergy continues to be one of the most promising yet under-utilized opportunities for green buildings today, and it should be given serious consideration as a practical, renewable, and affordable energy source for green buildings. Furthermore, bioenergy fuel and equipment are produced locally, providing economic benefit to the community in addition to regional ecological value. Biomass is the organic material that comes from plants and animals, and it is a renewable source of energy. Biomass contains stored energy from the sun. When biomass is burned, the chemical energy in biomass is released as heat. It can be burned directly or converted to liquid biofuels or biogas that can be burned as fuels.
Villa F by Christoph Hesse Architects in Korbach Germany is the very promising prototype of how bioenergy can be invested in creating a self sufficiently powered community. Besides supporting the use of renewable energies, the project aims to strengthen the local economy. With time all the houses in the village were connected to this model solution of villa F and got benefited as energy operating costs were significantly reduced. The concept to set up self-powered communities was developed through concerned citizens’ initiatives. Through community participation, economic inequality could be regularized providing more affordable housing.