Sonnenschiff: Solar City Produces 4X the Energy it Consumes

Although net-zero projects have been creating a lot of buzz lately in the field of green building, the Sonnenschiff solar city in Freiburg, Germany is very much net positive. The self-sustaining city accomplishes this feat through smart solar design and lots and lots of photovoltaic panels pointed in the right direction. It seems like a simple strategy — but designers often incorporate solar installations as an afterthought, or worse, as a label. Designed by Rolf Disch, the Sonnenschiff (Solar Ship) and Solarsiedlung (Solar Village) emphasize power production from the start by smartly incorporating a series of large rooftop solar arrays that double as sun shades. The buildings are also built to Passivhaus standards, which allows the project to produce four times the amount of energy it consumes!

The project started out as a vision for an entire community — the medium-density project balances size, accessibility, green space, and solar exposure. In all, 52 homes make up a neighborhood anchored to Sonnenschiff, a mixed-use residential and commercial building that emphasizes livability with a minimal footprint. Advanced technologies like phase-change materials and vacuum insulation significantly boost the thermal performance of the building’s wall system.

The penthouses on top of the Sonnenschiff have access to rooftop gardens that make full use of all available solar resources. The rooftops feature a rainwater recycling system that irrigates the gardens and supplies the toilets with greywater.
The homes are designed to the Passivhaus standard and have great access to passive solar heating and daylight. Each home features a very simple shed roof with deep overhangs that allows winter sun in while shading the building from the summer sun.
The project’s interior spaces have a lot of natural light (note the lights are not on in this office).

Triple-pane windows allow for a lot of glazing without the heat loss penalty.

Smart orientation was a key strategy used to maximize energy efficiency. The buildings are separated so as to provide sufficient light to the lower floors in the winter months.

The home’s feature a simple passive heating and cooling strategy.
Andrew Michler

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