Germany showcases solar energy home of the future

Earth Day enthusiasts can appreciate a solar home whose every feature is designed to save energy, from the thick insulated windows to the photovoltaic panels on every surface.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

The Goethe Square is the gateway to the Gucci and Hermès boutiques and the old Opera House, a bronze statue of the poet watching over this posh neighborhood of Europe’s financial capital.

It is here that the German government has chosen to showcase what it sees as the country’s solar house of the future. Designed by Darmstadt University, the house won the title of the world’s most beautiful, functional, and future-oriented house at the past two US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competitions in Washington, D.C.

After traveling to Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, the house has landed in Frankfurt, where the government hopes it will encourage investors and builders into building ecologically.

“We want to reach out to the young generation of construction workers, to let them know about financing opportunities,” said Jan Mücke of the German Housing Ministry, when inaugurating the solar house. It will remain in Frankfurt until the end of May.

To fulfill its aim of cutting gas emissions by 40 percent by 2010, the government has set aside $1.5 billion in low-interest loans for the building of solar energy homes, said Mr. Mücke.

Everything about the 968-square-foot house is made to save energy. Its glass windows are thickly insulated. There are photovoltaic panels on every surface, including on the roof, which is flat so as to better soak up the sun or chase the wind. Perhaps its most innovative feature lies in its wooden lamella facades, with photovoltaic receptors fitted on each lamella. The lamellas can be shut or kept open depending on the time of the day and the weather. Kept open in the winter, they can act as shutters, keeping the sun away or lending privacy in the hot season or at night.

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