An approach to Zero Energy

Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat

What is Zero Energy?

The average New Zealand home spends around $1,600 on electricity a year, which includes the costs to generate it and move it around the country, and the profits of the companies that sell it. Imagine for a second that your home or business could generate as much power as it uses – this was the inspiration behind one of the most ambitious sustainable developments in New Zealand: Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat. 

Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat is connected to the national grid, but this isn’t its only source of power. Solar panels installed in the Solar Garden and on roofs across the site are designed to generate as much energy as staff and guests use. This is the basic requirement for Zero Energy building certification, which the project is currently working towards achieving.

Zero Energy requires Camp Glenorchy to generate as much energy as it uses, assessed over the course of a year

Approaching Zero Energy

Making a building energy efficient is the first step to achieving Zero Energy, as doing so reduces the amount of energy that must be generated and therefore the size and cost of the system used to generate it.

Designing for this requires professionals from different disciplines to work together, as many decisions made during design will impact the building’s energy use. How spaces are laid out by the architect, the systems chosen for water and space heating, and even the finishes and appliances selected by the interior designer will affect the building’s performance.

Modern technology such as efficient heating systems, appliances and lights can be a great ally in achieving Zero Energy. Building-wide monitoring and control systems can centrally manage all of these, helping optimise their performance regardless of the time of year.

Once a building is designed and its expected use is understood, an Energy Budget can be developed to show how much energy it will use in operation.

How people actually use a building affects its energy use too, but this doesn’t necessarily mean sacrificing comfort or lifestyle. Monitoring and control systems can store and display energy data, helping people make mindful choices about their energy use through understanding the long-term impact of their everyday actions.

Once a building is designed and its expected use is understood, an Energy Budget can be developed to show how much energy it will use in operation. The profile is created by calculating the energy requirements of each system and appliance in the building and the frequency with which each is used. This analysis informs the size of the self-generation system needed to achieve Zero Energy for that building or, in the case of Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat, across the site.

Camp Glenorchy's approach to Zero Energy

Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat is pursuing Zero Energy as part of the owners’ aspiration to live in harmony with nature and protect the environment for future generations.

Energy efficiency

The site includes seven cabins, two bunkhuts and three shared-use buildings equipped with everything guests need for a comfortable stay. A team of experts from different fields collaborated on their design, coming up with innovative solutions to reduce energy use across the site and achieve the Zero Energy target.

The resulting buildings are appealing on the outside and function holistically on the inside, using a range of energy efficiency measures:

  • Efficient outer shells with 60% more insulation than required by the building code retain warmth captured from the sun and generated by efficient heating systems.
  • Buildings maximise natural light using solar tubes to funnel sunlight into the rooms.
  • Efficient LED lighting throughout buildings is automated to reduce unneeded use.
  • Ground source heat pumps work together with solar collectors placed on roofs to provide heat and hot water.
  • Individual systems in each building are connected to control systems that balance conservation and comfort; for example, heating is automatically set to a minimum threshold when cabins are not booked and returned to a comfortable temperature prior to guest arrival.
Guests are able to actively manage energy use during their stay with interactive tablets found in cabin bedrooms.

Guests are also able to actively manage energy use during their stay with interactive tablets found in cabin bedrooms. They can adjust the temperature of the room and the length of showers for their stay and learn how the choices they’ve made impact progress towards the Zero Energy goal.

With the help of guests and through efficiencies achieved in design and construction, Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat aims to reduce energy use by 50% compared with similar facilities. This means that the energy generation system can be half the size it would need to be if the project was ‘business as usual’.

Energy generation

The Solar Garden's 381 photovoltaic panels are mounted on timber frames which echo the shape of the surrounding mountains.

The bulk of the energy generated by Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat comes from its Solar Garden: 381 solar photovoltaic panels that guests are able to stroll around and between. The Solar Garden has been future-proofed so that batteries can be installed in the future, allowing stored energy to be used at night. Currently surplus energy is exported to the national grid.

As well as aiming to achieve Zero Energy for the site, Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat is on a mission to change the way guests think about energy use when they return to their homes and communities. In the near future, data showing energy use and generation will be shared on-site and online and, after a year of operation, it will be audited as part of their Zero Energy certification process.

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