A System for Living In

A house is not merely the sum of four walls and a roof. As urbanization, rural development, and economics continue to change the way people think about homeownership globally, new formulas for home design, technologies for efficiency, and home value are emerging.

In particular, in new home construction or retrofits the house is increasingly viewed as a system, rather than merely a structure – one in which the lighting technology, and the heat it emits, influence the type of HVAC unit to be installed, for example. From the design phase on, four walls and a roof can consume less energy and cost less, as well, when treated as a system. Around the world there are many emerging approaches to the home-as-a-system idea, representing many different approaches for redefining value in the housing sector. Le Corbusier’s notion of a house as a “machine for living” has been updated for an era of energy management and holistic design.

In Europe, the PassivHaus standard emerged in the late 1980’s, when the idea of super low energy consuming homes emerged out of several research projects. While the technologies used in the PassivHaus design are not all that innovative, the treatment of all the building materials as inputs to a system is novel. Using tight home envelop design, geographic orientation, and combinations of super-insulation and efficient windows and doors, the PassivHaus can reduce energy consumption to only 15 kWh per square meter, without adding much advanced technology. In the United States, the average home consumes roughly 137.8 kWh per square meter, according to the 2005 EIA Residential Energy Consumption Survey.

Meanwhile, in Japan, a systems approach to designing residential buildings is starting to look more high-tech from the curb. Battling severe electricity supply instability in the aftermath of the Fukushima disaster, Japanese companies are working together to provide a net energy-positive home that can serve as an active input into the electricity system. Recently, Kyocera, in conjunction with Nichicon and Samsung SDI, announced a new home energy management system that combines roof-top solar, on-site lithium-ion battery storage, and an IT-based energy management system, with sales beginning in summer 2012.

Around the world, shifting notions of home design and technical feasibility are being driven forward by country-level and regional initiatives. As a result, small companies with regional footprints and global corporations with large market shares are aligning their supply to accommodate new demand for a wide variety of residential energy efficiency needs. This market, and the opportunities it presents to all market players, form an increasingly important input into the management of the electricity system.

Article by Brittany Gibson, appearing courtesy the Matter Network.

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