A living lab

At the "living lab", Energy Sustainability Engineering Technology students learn how to incorporate sustainability into residential construction work.

The Pilikan House is a living lab on the Middleton campus of the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), designed and equipped to produce as much energy as it in turn consumes, championing what science folk call “net-zero housing.” I was downright giddy when I arrived for a tour.
“The house has the potential to be entirely net-zero,” said Jacob Woods, graduate of the campus’ Energy Sustainability Engineering Technology program. “If you had enough battery storage, the place could run indefinitely.”
Pilikan possesses double stud walls with extensive cellulose insulation, a series of thick windows on its south facing side to absorb sunlight (passive solar), 10 solar panels powering the house through its Tesla Power Wall, a solar thermal array harnessing the sun’s heat for hot water and a level two electric vehicle charging station complimented by a Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
Since graduating, Woods took up work with the NSCC’s Advanced Energy Research Group and has spent considerable time with Pilikan. Having experienced its efficiency first hand, he’s now painfully aware of a standard house’s shortcomings.
“From my own perspective, I feel way more conscious leaving a room and making sure the lights are off,” he says.
According to Woods, Pilikan costs a mere $200 annually to heat and in February, entire weeks go by without so much as turning on the building’s heat pump. On the 14°C day in July that I visited, the house itself easily exceeded 25°C. Its solar thermal array routinely produces water 80°C.
Pilikan uses something like 400 watts of electricity per hour, said Jacob, but the solar array gracing its roof produces 2 kilowatts per hour at its peak on a sunny day, typically from 11am-4pm. The Tesla Power Wall carries enough energy into the evening to run a television for seven hours, he mused, but any power produced in excess of that is fed back into the grid. This causes the building’s electrical meter to roll backwards. In this fashion, their electricity bill could be zero.
Without additional battery storage, Pilikan is forced to trade power back and forth with the grid in this fashion, but it exemplifies how a net-zero home might look and function in the absence of Tesla Power Walls and Jacob expects the idea of true net-zero will fast become infectious.
“What the Tesla Power Wall and solar panels can do for this home is no different for what they can do for the house across the street,” says Woods. “I think eventually it will become difficult for people to see their neighbours with solar panels and watch their meters roll backward, and not follow suit.”
Pilikan is a bigger house than mine, beautiful, its features modern and old fashion all at once. Sure, its revelations may be beyond those of us keeping up old buildings, but a place like Pilikan helps us dream big when building the homes of the future.

This story was originally published in Halifax Magazine.

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