Florida State University Institute for Energy Systems, Economics & Sustainability

Images Courtesy of Florida State University


Completed in the summer of 2009, the Off-Grid Zero Emissions Building (OGZEB) sets a new standard for sustainable living. Built by Florida State’s Institute for Energy Systems, Economics & Sustainability, the building marries energy efficient technologies with cutting-edge energy production.

“The whole purpose of the OGZEB is to test renewable energy technologies and to serve as a living laboratory,” said OGZEB manager Susan Ingersoll. Ingersoll’s goal is to monitor energy production and consumption inside the building, “so when we have people living in there we can see how different people use energy and how they interact with renewable energy technology.”

People will be living in the 1,000 square-foot, two-bedroom, graduate-style flat as soon as this fall. And as long as they’re in the house, they won’t be drawing any power from the grid. Solar cells on the roof provide electricity, hot water and power to the HVAC system. Hydrogen combustion heats the stove and provides backup power.
Remarkably, OGZEB produces this hydrogen itself. Excess electricity is converted into hydrogen via an electrolyzer and stored as a compressed gas until it’s needed. The only by-product of the process is oxygen.
While this type of technology won’t be widely adopted, many features of the OGZEB are less expensive and can be integrated into new home designs.

“Most of the stuff we just bought off the market,” said Ingersoll.
For example, the walls and ceiling of the house are madeof a Structured Insulated Panel System (SIPS), which essential turns the OGZEB into a “giant igloo cooler” and reduces air infiltration by 98%. The siding and roofing is reflective to reduce heat gain and the siding is designed to provide an inch of standing air between it and the building to increase insulation. Ingersoll and her team will rigorously test these technologies and many others, such as rainwater collection and LED lighting. And as new technologies come onto the market, they’ll be testedin the OGZEB too.

The goal is to collect data to help future builders increase energy efficiency and sustainability. “One of the problems with sustainability is the models are not up to date,” said Ingersoll. “When we have our energy system in place we can see how people actually use energy, and produce better models, using actual data instead of just trying to estimate.” According to Ingersoll, initial data from the OGZEB shows a 90% electricity savings, proving that a building doesn’t have to use renewable sources to conserve energy. “It’s not like you’re using less water, not turning on your air conditioner as much,” said Ingersoll. “You can still use these things the way you want to, but you’ll still save energy because [the house] is designed so well.”

What’s really surprising about this house-cum-laboratory is how traditional it feels. OGZEB’s designers consciously eschewed the sterile and futuristic look of many green buildings. With two decks, high ceilings and exposed roof beams, the OGZEB feels downright cozy. “With the design of this house, most of the technology is behind the scenes,” said Ingersoll. “We want people to walk in the house and think, ‘This is a beautiful house. I would love to live here.”