Images credit ZedFactory
With the real estate development business in the tank in the UK, it was surprising to see a big article in the Guardian about Bill Dunster's PortZED project. Back in '07 it was called "an example of how a good architectural concept and zero carbon solutions can come together successfully." Now, according to developer Bohogreen, it is awaiting planning approval and financing is in place.
Unlike most net-zero projects that pump electricity into the grid during the day and take it out at night, PortZED takes an off-grid approach, and stores electricity made from wind and photovoltaics in batteries. This is tough.
You have to be really careful when you go off-grid, or you can blow through your stored power in no time. From the Guardian:
But resident behaviour will also play a key role, says the developer, Colin Brace of Bohogreen, who has worked on previous low-carbon projects. "We can't tell people that you only have so much power, and no more. But there are studies showing that if you give people renewable energy they think, oh good, it's free, and their energy use actually goes up. So an important aspect of the project will be to educate people about their energy use.
"The apartments will be designed to encourage communal living as much as possible," says Brace, "rather than having everyone in their own rooms using their own sources of power." There will also be LED lights on the wind turbines which light up red, amber and green to show which block is using power most heavily, in order to foster "a healthy sense of competition between residents to keep their power use low".
I personally had the experience, while working out of the sustain minihome, of plugging in a vacuum cleaner and blowing through the stored battery power in about a minute. I am not alone:
Rachel Shiamh, who built her own off-grid house in Wales last year, and who is organising an off-grid conference this summer, argues that being off-grid makes her more aware of her power use. "When the sun comes out I think 'oh brilliant, I can use the hoover.' It's made me far more aware of the elements. And I think it's really important that this isn't just seen as some hippy and low-budget thing; this kind of development is so important for getting off-grid into the mainstream."
According to the Guardian, the final decision has not been made about whether they will actually stay off grid. "I'm not absolutely sure that the market is ready for it yet," says Brace. "But that [off-grid] would certainly be the ideal."
Neither am I. In a 70 unit building, somebody is going to want to use the bloody Hoover.
More at the Guardian
More on Bull Dunster and the Zeds:
Jubilee Wharf: The Greenest Housing in Britain?
RuralZED: UK's First Commercially Viable Zero-Carbon Home
BedZed: Trouble in Paradise
BedZED 7 Years On: Did This Pioneering Development Work?