Solar energy innovation has a habit of showing up in unlikely places, take Germany’s dominant global lead in the PV market as a shining example, and now you can add Aarhus, Denmark to the list as well. It is there, in yet another overcast, northern Europe location that the world’s first “Active” House is, quite literally, up and running.
The idea of an Active House stems from the more well known Passive House design. A Passive House is designed to be super efficient, thus eliminating the need for a grid-powered heating and cooling system. Unfortunately, as well as Passive homes may work much of the time, there is inevitably some point in the year when natural extremes win out and most passive homeowners purchase back-up heating systems to maintain comfort levels. The Active house expands on the passive house concept by striving to create a home that simply produces more energy than it uses in a year, making it a positive energy or resource positive home.
This home in Denmark is the world’s first working example. It is equipped with both a solar thermal and solar electric system. The former heats water for a radiant floor heater and the latter provides electricity for the home. It is also equipped with heat recovery ventilator, triple-glazed windows, and very efficient insulation. The house is grid-connected, where it will send its excess energy during the summer and on sunny days, but it will also purchase energy from the grid to compensate for winter weather. That energy will, however, be purchased only from renewable sources.
The most unique feature of the home is its computer system, a system that is digitally tied to the thermostat and automatically opens and closes windows to fit the temperature and weather conditions as well as time of day. Therefore, this home is literally an “active” house, operating under its own volition to maintain a super efficient, well maintained indoor environment.
Soon to move in is a local family of four who will live in the home for one year while documenting their experiences. The home cost over $800,000 to build, certainly well out of the average family of four’s price range.
Skeptics of such projects nearly always point to price as an unrelenting barrier to commercialization. Creators and designers of the house counter that this home is an experiment and exhibition, and that costs could easily be pared down for commercial application. As Rikke Lildholdt, project manager for the Active House, told The Guardian: “Hopefully we’ll set a standard for what houses will look like in the future, but this is an experiment. We’re not building houses, we’re building an idea.” There are nine more Active Houses planned in Europe. As for the United States….