German architect and engineer Werner Sobek, known to TreeHugger readers for his Plus Energy House and the ThyssenKrupp tower, recently won the prestigious Fritz Leonhardt Award, which " honours excellent civil engineers who combine form, function and aesthetics in engineering in architecture in an exceptional way." Last year, Sobek completed the House B10, which generates twice as much energy from sustainable sources as it requires for its own needs.
Sobek used the award as an opportunity to discuss his idea for a totally emissions free "electric city", which he says can be achieved in just five years. Sobek believes that if the automotive and housing industries work together it can be done:
Both of these industries are coming up with pioneering developments that can contribute to freedom from emissions. The automotive industry is driving forward the creation of ever more powerful, longer-lasting batteries. At the same time, the construction industry is working on such solutions as a retrofittable building automation system that can noticeably reduce the energy consumption of existing buildings in a very short amount of time.
He uses the B10 house as a model for the future of housing: it generates enough electricity to juice up two electric smart cars and still have some left over for its next door neighbour, an historic house designed by Le Corbusier that is guaranteed to be an energy hog. The key is sharing: architects have to “stop viewing house facades as system boundaries.”
The only thing that matters is for everyone to stop using fossilised sources of energy. To make this happen, the generation and storage of electricity and heat must be governed by the “Sisterhood Principle”, whereby two or more houses – and even whole districts and cities – automatically communicate about the energy they are each generating, storing and using, and then cooperate with one another to bring about the optimal coordination of these figures.
The B10 is an interesting model; it is a prefab with vacuum glazing, a fold-down facade, a timber frame and all those things that I complain about in the smart home: "the charging infrastructure and the building services equipment to generate, store and manage energy in a central element – that in turn makes B10 the link between the user, building, vehicle and the smart grid"- it's complicated and high tech.
On the other hand, according to ArchDaily, it generates more energy than it needs, does not produce any emissions and " can be returned to the materials cycle without leaving behind any residual waste (zero waste)."
Is the Electric City possible in five years? They would have to build a lot of Teslas, Leafs and PowerWalls to make it happen. Perhaps Sobek's main point is that we could do it if we really wanted to, the technology is in place now to make it work. All we need is the will.