Sustainable Architecture: 4 Popular Green Energy Sources for Buildings

Updated October 2022

Sustainable architecture is all about finding better ways to construct buildings so their environmental impact is as small as possible. It's about innovation, creativity, technology, and a total commitment to sustainability.

But there are other good reasons to go green. Buildings that happily co-exist with nature are often cheaper to run—a major bonus for clients who want to save costs over the long term, while staying true to their eco values.

One of the best ways to achieve this balance? Green energy sources. It seems each year brings new and exciting techniques in this area; solutions you'll be exploring during sustainable architecture training and actually implementing on the job.

What are some of the hottest products on the market right now? Take a look at four trending ways to power up buildings with green energy.

1. Solar shingles and rooftop panels

Solar power (also known as photovoltaic energy) has become one of the most popular green energy solutions on the planet. It's a leading approach for sustainable buildings and can be found on rooftops across the globe.

What makes solar power such an ideal option for buildings?

  • It doesn't emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants during operation
  • Solar panels are silent
  • These systems require little maintenance
  • The cost of solar systems has decreased over the years, while the technology has become even more efficient

There are a few ways to incorporate solar power into your building designs. You could use solar shingles instead of regular roof tiles—building the solar power right into the roof.

This approach is similar to the integrated solar solution designers used when creating The Edge, one of the most sustainable office building in the world. Located in Amsterdam, The Edge is used as the headquarters for Deloitte Netherlands. In this example, solar technology is built right into the structure of the building. Amazingly, it produces 102 per cent of the building's energy needs!


2. Biomass Energy

Does your home have a fireplace or wood-burning stove for added heat? You're using one of the oldest examples of biomass energy on the planet.

Basically, biomass involves combusting plant materials to generate energy rather than using conventional fossil fuels (which have wreaked havoc with the environment for generations).

An efficient wood stove can be a very simple and effective addition to a modern home. But there are other applications of biomass that can be used to reduce the environmental impact of buildings, including:

  • Advanced boiler systems that burn wood to heat water for use in homes or larger buildings
  • Large-scale wood-burning systems that can be used to power turbines for heat and electricity (a good solution for an industrial design)
  • Systems that burn special, small wood pellets recycled from sawdust, wood chips, and waste from wood processing
  • Wood-burning appliances that are EPA-certified, designed to minimize air pollution through lower emissions

Biomass energy is not without controversy, though. Critics say the wood smoke contains carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and other chemical compounds that harm the environment. Plus, growing demand for biomass may be driving the unsustainable harvesting of natural resources.

If you're considering incorporating biomass solutions into your building designs, look for high-efficiency, low-emission appliances that will minimize environmental impact.


3. Geothermal Heat Pumps/Air Conditioners

Geothermal energy solutions draw power from the earth itself. Geothermal heat pumps tap into heat from the earth's upper layers and disperse it throughout an entire building.

Actually, these pumps can be used for both heating and cooling, as well as maintaining stable home humidity levels. Air conditioning units eat up an enormous amount of energy (and money) each year, so finding an eco-friendly solution is a huge step forward.

How do geothermal systems work?

Geothermal pipes run into the ground alongside the building, extracting heat from the earth, rather than the air (like typical heat pumps), which requires much less electricity. The main advantages of these systems include:

  • Very little maintenance is required
  • Very quiet
  • Low carbon emissions
  • Can be designed to fit a variety of building structures

Check out the video for a quick and simple explanation of how geothermal heat pumps work.



4. Wind Power

When you think of wind power, you probably imagine fields of huge turbines out in the middle of nowhere, generating power for use miles away.

And that's true—but new technology is making wind power a possibility for urban buildings too, including homes and apartment buildings.

Small-scale wind energy (also known as microgeneration) helps homes, businesses, and public buildings dramatically decrease reliance on the electrical grid.

Small wind turbines can be constructed nearby or on top of buildings, where they harness the energy of the wind and convert it into electricity. Top benefits of wind energy are:

  • It's clean, doesn't emit harmful pollutants
  • It's sustainable—as long as the earth makes wind, the power will be there

But what about the drawbacks of wind power? Critics point out that turbines have been known to kill birds, create a lot of noise, and aren't always consistent power producers (like when there's little or no wind).

However, technology in this area is moving quickly forward to address these issues. And there are hybrid systems that let people switch back and forth between their own wind power, and grid energy, during times of low wind.

It's definitely worth keeping an eye on urban wind turbines to integrate into your building plans.

Interested in learning more about sustainable architecture? Considering a career in eco-friendly building design, and want to explore college programs?

Your next step is to speak with admissions. We can answer your questions on how to apply, training, careers, tuition, financial aid, and more.

Chat live with an advisor right now. Or click below to explore the Sustainable Architecture program in more detail. We're here to help!

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