This blog follows the latest trends in high performance housing from an insider's perspective. I am the General Manager of one of Ottawa's leading homebuilders - Urbandale Construction, and it gives me a firsthand view of how the industry is changing. I've seen the barriers that builders face when trying to market new technologies and I've been working directly to overcome these barriers to bring new energy efficient designs into Urbandale homes.
This is not the future of building.
A Stockholm architecture firm has created a lot of buzz recently with their plans to build a “hairy” skyscraper. The building would have thousands of piezoelectric straws coming off the structure that harness energy as they sway in the wind. The project has created a lot of interest because it is extremely innovative and looks dramatically different from how we expect a building to look. There’s just one problem – it will never work.
Piezoelectric crystals or fibers create a small voltage when they are mechanically deformed. The thing is, the energy created is extremely small, on the order of milliwatts. This technology has mainly been used to power wristwatches. The largest device that has been built using this technology to date has been a doorbell. There is currently research studying the potential to embed piezoelectric technology in clothing to harness energy as you move, but even then it would only generate a very small amount power, perhaps just enough to keep your cell phone charged.
The wind energy industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. If there was any potential that piezoelectric fibers could be used to efficiently harness energy from the wind they would be all over it, but they’re not. At best, if this project ever gets built (which I doubt) it would serve as an artistic statement or proof of concept with the intention of getting people to rethink about the role of energy in our everyday lives. Piezoelectric technology may find a niche in our energy future in powering small things through mechanical movement, but unfortunately, they are not a viable energy source for large-scale energy needs, like our buildings or homes.
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