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April 7, 2007
Paul Gipe

Freiburg's Solar Siedlung (Settlement)


Craig Morris, author of Energy Switch, recently gave me a whirlwind tour of the Solar Siedlung in Freiburg, Germany. The Solar Siedlung (settlement or subdivision in German) and its accompanying Sonnenschiff (solar ship) were built by Rolf Disch, Freiburg's noted solar architect.

A lot has been written about the Solar Siedlung, its development, and the neighborhood or quarter (Vauban) where it is located. I won't repeat that material here.

What is significant for North Americans is that while we continue to talk about "zero" energy houses as the epitomy of social and environmental consciousness, German designers such as Disch have gone well beyond that stage. The row houses in Disch's Solar Siedlung are "plus" energy houses. That is, they produce more energy than they consume.

By using full benefit of passive solar heating, more insulation than even the typical German home, and an extended roof of solar photovoltaics, the houses in Disch's development produce more electricity than they use.

First consider that the average electricity consumption for the homes is only 2,200 kWh/year. That's one-third the average of the typical California home, one-fifth that of the typical Ontario house, and one-sixth that of the typical Texan.

The roof top solar panels produce 6,300 kWh/home per year or three times more than each home consumes! (That's an average yield of 940 kWh/kW/year, fairly typical for southern Germany.)

Similarly, the commercial building produces more electricity than it consumes, but by less of a margin (1.1 times its consumption).

For me, the fact that we continue to talk about "zero" energy buildings, is further indication of far we are behind in our thinking about the role solar energy and energy conservation can play in meeting our need for heat and electricity.


Sonnenschiff (Solar Ship) residential and commercial building.

Residential rowhouses in solar settlement.

Sonnenschiff (Solar Ship) residential and commercial building.

Residential rowhouses in solar settlement.

Solar Panels cover the roof but also extend beyond the roof as awnings.

Solar Panels cover the roof but also extend beyond the roof as awnings.

Solar row houses and pedestrian zone common area.

Backside of Sonneschiff.

Roof overhang provides shade and additional room for solar panels.

Exterior mounted inverters. Note solar panels have no frame and are thus not opaque.


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