Florida development is a trifecta of solar power, size and efficiency

Pearl Homes exterior
© Hunters Point by Pearl Homes

Finally, Net Zero done right, and in a speculative development even.

Net Zero energy buildings feed power into the grid when the sun is shining and draw power when it isn't. But it doesn't work when the grid gets knocked out by hurricanes, as often happens in Florida. An interesting new community, Hunters Point, being built by Pearl Homes in Cortez, south of Tampa, may finally solve the problem of Net Zero.

I have always been dubious about net zero and its reliance on the grid, and suggested that radical efficiency was a better approach to getting to zero. These houses are built to LEED Platinum standards, and are very well insulated, and are not huge, so they won't need much cooling. Then they are topped off with solar panels connected to 9MWh of Sonnen batteries so that they don't have to connect to the grid at all.

I have also been dubious about smart home technology, but these houses are full of smart google stuff that time-shifts the use of AC and appliances to run when the sun is shining, for example, pre-cooling the house. From the Sonnen press release:

The first-of-its-kind community is designed to decongest the wires of the local utility grid, providing load-shaping throughout the day to support intelligent demand management; establish smart configurable backup that provides resiliency and peace of mind for homeowners in the face of storms and other natural disasters; and the ability to live a cleaner lifestyle than any other development in the country.

Model home entry© Hunters Point by Pearl Homes

Everybody in the USA loves batteries and Net Zero, but the key to all of this working is a hat trick (three goals in hockey):

  1. The units are small at 500 square feet, so there is not that much to cool; this is what we call sufficiency – just build what is enough.
  2. They are very well insulated and equipped, reducing demand further (and built to withstand category 5 hurricanes);
  3. Which makes their electricity demands low enough that it can economically be met with solar panels and Sonnen battery systems. The smart time-shifting tech probably helps a bit too.

It takes the trifecta to make true grid-independent Net Zero possible. Marshall Gobuty of Pearl Homes tells the local paper that it is all about balance:

Gobuty said Sonnen’s technology, in combination with expert LEED Platinum home design, “has changed the equation for the ability to truly optimize smart homes using solar plus storage to the point where we are capable of building sustainable communities that share solar, and decarbonizes the region, one Pearl Home at a time.”

It will be interesting to see how well it actually works, and whether the occupants buy into the low-energy lifestyle; they could add a couple of beer fridges and knock it all out of balance. We might now finally find out how many people are willing to pay for energy independence; according to the local newspaper, they start around $400,000 but there appears to be demand; Marshall Gobuty says he has 1,500 people on the waiting list for the 86 homes.

I also find it interesting that it is built to be hurricane-proof, but I am surprised to see units so close to the water being so close to the ground. Perhaps they should have been on stilts to cope with the inevitable rising waters.

According to Adele Peters at Fast Company, the houses were designed with the help of the Florida Solar Energy Center, a research institute at the University of Central Florida. Credit is due to them; this is Net Zero done right.

multifamily pearl homes© Hunters Point by Pearl Homes

They are even following up with affordable rental housing. This is one to watch.

Florida development is a trifecta of solar power, size and efficiency
Finally, Net Zero done right.

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