The Low2No project is designed to help transition our cities to a low carbon future. We aim to balance economy, ecology and society through strategic investments and interventions in the built environment.

02. Week in Review

The project team kicked-off 2011 with an intense, but effective meeting at Arup's London offices. Topics discussed ranged from the structural efficiency afforded by different basement layouts to agreeing on a method of energy performance modelling for the block.

Fire planning has emerged as a significant factor influencing schematic design of the block. As has been stated, Sitra has set a timber construction solution as a top priority for the office building, but Finnish fire regulations currently do not allow multi-story timber buildings. The Energy Programme has been working closely with the authorities to expedite changes currently under final review to the fire code with the hopes that final approval will happen in time for our building permit review.

Complications to building massing arise whenever you bring one type of fire classification into contact with another. In other words, timber and concrete buildings do not play nicely together according to the fire code and thus need to be separated into their own areas in the playground. The design team has been looking at ways to overcome what would seem to be an inevitable outcome through smart, hybrid structural and facade solutions that unify the Sitra timber building with its neighbors, and I am quite encouraged. Sketches of the massing and urban character of the block will be revealed during our 08 February event and I will post images here shortly after.

We have also been looking at how to meet our onsite electricity production goals and the early indications suggest that despite the short days in winter, Helsinki's long summer days may allow us to produce as much as 240,000 kWh per year. This will require both rooftop and building integrated solar technologies. Studies are now underway to determine the most appropriate technology for this northern application and how that technology will be integrated into the building just like any other building material. 

All insolation is not created equally.
All insolation is not created equally.

One interesting question emerging out of the solar technology debate is how to adapt a desert technology to a northern climate. Luckily for us, technology is being developed and some are even market ready that seek to fill this void. Most seem to rely on increasing the solar energy capture area to take advantage of diffuse and reflected light, since the efficiency of the various semiconductor materials seems to be more or less stable.

Of course, underlying all of our debate is the brutal reality that if Finland does not enact a feed-in-tariff for solar technologies, the payback period for a PV array will be beyond the life of the building. Cheap, abundant energy has been a topic political priority in Finland for decades as it has been a stimulus to Finland's heavy industries. There is a slow awakening in the government to necessity/long term value of a feed-in-tariff for small producers, but its certainty is anything but guaranteed.

Coming to terms with the economic side of the triple bottom line.
Coming to terms with the economic side of the triple bottom line.

So if a principle of the Low2No model is to seek to balance the competing interests of economy, ecology and society, how do we answer the dismal net present value projections of solar technologies? Ouch! Brain damage. 

January 15th, 2011

Posted by: Justin W. Cook

Category: Weeknotes