Nordic Powerhouse

By  Sunniva Bratt Slette

A brand new Zero Emission Building (ZEB) Lab opened in Trondheim on Thursday March 4th 2021. ZEB Lab is a unique laboratory which is calibrated to discover future solutions for sustainable buildings.

Buildings account for approximately 40% of the energy consumption and 36% of CO2 emissions in the EU. Renovation and zero-emission building standards are therefore important goals of the European Green Deal, which aims to make EU's economy sustainable by 2050.

As a response to global zero emission commitments, international collaboration paves the way for research on how to design zero emission and net positive energy buildings. A zero emission building (ZEB) produces enough renewable energy to compensate for its greenhouse gas emissions over the building's life span, including materials, construction, use and end of life . One step further is a powerhouse, which is defined as an energy-positive building that generates more energy than it consumes, also during its entire life span.

Interestingly, the number of powerhouses built in Nordic countries is relatively high. Considering the cold climate and harsh weather conditions, the surroundings are far from ideal to set such standards. However, the idea of making ZEBs and powerhouses work in the Nordics prove a point for demonstrating opportunities. How does snowstorms affect solar panels? If it is possible to design net zero emission or positive energy buildings that far north, it will certainly be easier to accomplish in warmer geographies with better access to solar energy.

Trondheim, a city in Mid-Norway, is a pioneer within smart city research. This opens for strong synergies both within the city, other Norwegian cities and with international partners. A comprehensive smart city project called Positive City ExChange is coordinated from Trondheim with international partners through the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program "Smart cities and communities" . The project combines urban planning, smart grids, electric mobility and clean energy to build a sustainable and resilient urban environment.

A brand new ZEB Lab was opened in March 2021. It is located at the campus of the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU Trondheim) and near SINTEF, which is one of Europe’s largest independent research organizations. World Economic Forumhas previously named Powerhouse Brattørkaia to be one of the most impressive zero emission buildings worldwide . It is the world's northernmost energy positive building, located at 63 degrees north latitude in. The new ZEB Lab is an exquisite complement to the northern building pioneer, found only three km south from the powerhouse.

The Zero Emission Building Photo: Sunniva Bratt Slette

The ZEB Lab will contribute to connect the dots between already existing research facilities like the Norwegian National Smart Grid Laboratory and Living Lab, that respectively explore smart grid applications and zero emission residential buildings. Technically, the ZEB Lab houses 1500 sensors to monitor and optimize the indoor environment, energy use and production. The materials are reused as far as possible, natural ventilation and heat pumps are integrated, and wood is the core building material alongside the solar panels that cover three walls and the rooftop, as well as a wind shield in front of the lab. The ZEB Lab is a unique example of an energy efficient building that powers the surrounding built environment with 100 000 kWh of solar electricity per year.

As well as a research lab, the ZEB Lab will house offices and an educational auditorium. A main ambition for the lab is to investigate how humans interact with the building, and how technology can optimize buildings without overwhelming the users. Greenification by vegetation, rain collection and water management systems enable water efficiency and climate adaptation. Lastly, the location is ideal for public transport and micromobility access.

A fascinating aspect for an investment analyst is the number of solution themes that are represented in the project. The solar panels used on the ground in front of the building were delivered by the solution company SunPower. Examples of investment themes are energy storage and distribution, renewable energy, recycling and re-use of building materials, lighting, grids and infrastructure, water management, urban planning, energy efficiency, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC). What the ideal combination of different technologies looks like remains to be confirmed, but one thing is certain: Solutions can be found through zero emission building labs and Nordic powerhouses.

Visit zeblab for more information and a digital tour of the building.

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