From void into vision, from vision to mind, from mind into speech, from speech to the tribe, from the tribe into din.

Thursday, February 06, 2020

Net Zero Energy Buildings at the Poles

The NYTimes published "The Coolest Architecture on Earth Is in Antarctica" by John Gendall on January 6, 2020. (
It was a general overview of new research stations and their designs to cope with the "world’s harshest environment."

According to the story, designer architects are bringing "aesthetics — as well as operational efficiency, durability and energy improvements” to the new buildings planned or under construction.

The Halley VI research station of the British Antarctic Survey, designed by Hugh Broughton Architects, is credited with changing the state of the art.  The Halley VI is built on hydraulic stilts, "allowing operators to lift it up out of accumulating snow drifts. And if the entire station needs to be moved — it sits on a drifting ice shelf — skis at the base of those stilts make that possible."

India’s National Center for Antarctic and Ocean Research’s new research station, is built, partially, out of the shipping containers the rest of the materials came in, designed into the process from the beginning by the German architecture firm of bof architekten.

The article quotes Ben Roth of the Antarctic Infrastructure Modernization for Science, or AIMS, the National Science Foundation initiative to modernize the USA’s McMurdo Station, as saying the existing buildings there are “energy hogs” which create additional problems for scientific research.

It was a good article but, since I’ve been collecting links to developments in net zero energy buildings since 2013 (, I was surprised that the world’s first zero emission polar research station with a decade’s worth of operating experience, the Princess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica (, the research station of the International Polar Foundation based in Brussels, was not mentioned at all.  I’d like to know if the Princess Elisabeth Station is still the only zero emission polar research station and if so, why;  but both the station and the concept of net zero energy seems to absent from the architectural context of this particular article in the NYTimes.  

The fact of the matter is there are net zero buildings at every scale, at every price in every existing climate, including net positive energy buildings in polar regions.

Snøhetta is the company to watch as they have completed the world’s northernmost energy-positive building, an 8-story, 18,000 square meter Powerhouse Brattørkaia in Trondheim, Norway "which produces, on average, more than twice as much electricity as it consumes daily”
and another far Northern net positive energy office building
They also worked on Harvard’s HouseZero, a near net zero retrofit of a 1940s building in Cambridge, MA.

In addition, California’s Title 24-2019 is the first state code in the USA in force now to require solar panels and nearly net zero levels of energy consumption in all new homes through improvements in the building’s thermal envelope and demand responsive technologies including battery storage and heat pump water heaters 

The EU has near net zero building standards as well through their Energy Performance of Buildings Directive or EPBD which "requires all new buildings from 2021 (public buildings from 2019) to be nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEB)” meaning "a building that has a very high energy performance... The nearly zero or very low amount of energy required should be covered to a very significant extent from renewable sources, including sources produced on-site or nearby."

We have built net zero energy buildings in every climate on Earth.  Over the next few decades we will rebuild our structures to those standards and, eventually, replace the energy from the grid that goes into our buildings, about a third of all energy the USA generates in a year, about 33 quadrillion btu’s with energy efficiency and energy production onsite.

This is the reality coming down the pike.  The more we recognize it, the faster it will happen.  Changing building codes across the USA is a significant leverage point for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, energy waste, improving resilience and preparedness (Solar IS Civil Defense), and building a renewable future now as Justin Gillis has recognized, also in the NYTimes


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