Hybrid office building cuts cord to grid

A four-storey office building in South Australia has cut its connection to the electricity grid in what its owners claim to be a world first. The building is powered by solar thermal, photovoltaics and wind energy.

The Fluid Solar headquarters in Adelaide, Australia made green building history on Monday when it became the first office building in the world to officially cut its cord to the grid.

In fact, the building has been operating without the use of the electricity grid since April to test its technologies before it took the symbolic step of severing its connection to conventional electricity, as Andrew Spence writes for The Lead.

The key to its success: solar thermal. According to Fluid Solar’s managing director, Roger Davies, solar photovoltaic cells alone could not produce enough energy to run an air conditioning system.

“Even if you could, the cost of the battery pack becomes so large that it’s difficult to pay the battery pack off before it wears out,” he said.

“Storage of heat is dramatically cheaper than battery storage and because we’ve got the other end, which is the devices that use thermal energy directly for their heating and cooling it means that 60 to 70 per cent of the building’s energy requirements are met using solar thermal as opposed to solar PV technology.

“That allows us to use the rest of the roof – about 60 per cent – to do a conventional PV. So we have a hybrid model between a smaller battery pack running the lights, the lift, the fan systems and so on and the heavy lifting is done by the solar thermal.”

The roof also holds wind turbines to fill the void for the days in winter when cloudy weather reduces the effectiveness of solar. The surplus electricity will be used to power the car charging station.

In total, the building contains more than 2 megawatt hours (MWh) of energy storage capacity, comprising around 90 per cent thermal storage with the remaining 10 per cent provided by conventional battery storage.

The company is now working on a system that can be retrofitted to existing office buildings. It also builds small houses, which are powered by similar renewable energy systems as the office building, can be run off-grid and can be built on site in a matter of days.

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