An architecture firm in Dortmund has designed an entirely self-sufficient building that produces all the energy it needs with solar panels, mirrors and wind turbines.
The Energy Tower will be insulated with vacuum-packed glass
The Energy Tower, which will be completely powered by renewable energy sources and ecological building materials, could become the prototype of the future in the fight against climate change.
The vacuum-packed glass for the building facade is not ready for production yet, but the employees at the Gerber Architects in Dortmund in the industrial heartland of the Ruhr Valley hope that the technology will be developed before the ground-breaking on the energy tower.
There is already a potential buyer for the building project -- the prince of Bahrain. Even though energy prices in the oil-rich Gulf region have not risen as fast as in the West, greenhouse warming and energy conservation is still a topic of great concern on the Arabian Peninsula.
Versatile design for any climate
Wind and solar power will be used to cool the building
The tower is designed for the tropics, but adapting the building for colder climes is feasible. The vacuum-packed glass exteriors that prevent cool air from escaping can be transformed to retain heat inside during European winters.
In Germany, for example, heat and hot water account for 30 percent of all energy needs. "The use of energy efficient building materials plays a very important role in the fight against climate change," said Andreas Gries of North Rhine-Westphalia's energy agency.
Ecological building has become the new standard, he said. Environmentally sound homes equipped with thick insulation, vacuum-packed windows and state-of-the art ventilation systems require only 20 percent of the energy consumption that is needed for conventional houses.
Self-sufficient homes still too pricey
But ecological homes that can be solely powered by self-generated energy are still a distant dream.
"Too expensive," explained Gries. "Such technology is being developed, but it is not ready for the market yet," he said.
Germany, along with Austria and Switzerland, is at the forefront of building such energy efficient, well-insulated homes, and there are other even more ambitious projects in the works.
The Energy Tower is designed for warm climates
Up to now the concept for the energy tower has only existed on paper. The tower is supposed to consist of commercial space, residential units, a shopping center and hotel.
"In the first phase of the project, we have tried to achieve a 60 percent energy savings through ecological construction compared to conventional buildings, with the remaining 40 percent to be realized through renewable energy sources," explained project coordinator Thomas Lücking.
Energy conservation can be achieved by combining wind and solar energy for ventilation purposes and making optimal use of daylight that filters in from glass exteriors. A heliostatic mirror device installed on the top of the tower would capture and reflect sunlight and then disperse heat and light throughout the building.
"Ventilation, cooling and light are the three elements responsible for energy consumption in buildings," explained Lücking.
Energy from solar panels, mirrors, wind turbine
The prince of Bahrain has already expressed an interest in the Energy Tower
It would be a "self-sufficient Energy Tower," said Lücking, who explained that a solar installation would cover an area of 4,000 square meters (10,800 square feet) around the tower. In addition, solar panels would cover the roof at the base of the building, where three levels of a shopping arcade are being planned.
Near the Energy Tower is a solar island with crooked mirrors reflecting water heated from a pipe. The energy generated from it is meant to be used for cooling the tower. A wind turbine is the third element that provides additional electrical energy, added Lücking.
Questions about the project's cost are relative, according to Lücking. "It depends on one’s perspective," he said. For Lücking, who has taken a long-term approach, there is no doubt that it is worthwhile to invest in futuristic technologies today.
"It would turn out to be a lot cheaper than repairing all the damage from further climate warming," he said.