Architecture

Solar shelter shines a light on refugee integration

Solar shelter shines a light o...
The shape of the structure is like that of a lean-to, with one large sloping face covered in solar panels
The shape of the structure is like that of a lean-to, with one large sloping face covered in solar panels
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The yield loss from the panels not facing south (when in the northern hemisphere) is said to be limited
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The yield loss from the panels not facing south (when in the northern hemisphere) is said to be limited
The shape of the structure is like that of a lean-to, with one large sloping face covered in solar panels
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The shape of the structure is like that of a lean-to, with one large sloping face covered in solar panels
The SolarCabin was conceived to provide conspicuous added value to a community by providing it with surplus electricity that is generated
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The SolarCabin was conceived to provide conspicuous added value to a community by providing it with surplus electricity that is generated

One of the problems that can arise when providing housing for asylum seekers is that communities can see a burden involved, but not necessarily a benefit. The SolarCabin refugee shelter is designed to tackle this, with a large, visible solar array used to produce a surplus of electricity that can help power the local area.

The concept was developed in response to the "A Home away from Home" competition in the Netherlands, which asked participants to design temporary housing for asylum seekers in a climate where demand is constantly fluctuating. The contest was run by the Central Agency for the Reception of Asylum Seekers (COA) and received 366 entries in total, of which the SolarCabin was one of six winners.

Designed by Bram Zondag of Bureau Zondag and Arjan de Nooijer of dNArchitectuur, it combines a number of ideas. It has a modular, steel/timber frame construction that makes it quick to construct and cost effective, as well as being adaptable for use by other groups, such as students, first-time buyers or holidaymakers. Once a kit is on site, the aim is for a SolarCabin to be constructed in a day, with the use of a crane.

Zondag and de Nooijer say the shelter can be made either in a form that's suitable and financially viable for use over short-term periods of up to five years, or for use more permanently over 10 years or more.

Most importantly, though, the SolarCabin was conceived to provide conspicuous added value to a community. Not only is it designed to feed its surplus of electricity generated back into the local community, but also to make clear that it is doing so.

In this way, the look of the structure is very clever. It is shaped like a lean-to, with one large sloping face covered in solar panels. This unusual design will draw people's attention, making them aware of the solar array. As a result, communities will see that an investment in a SolarCabin is also an investment in renewable energy.

The yield loss from the panels not facing south (when in the northern hemisphere) is said to be limited
The yield loss from the panels not facing south (when in the northern hemisphere) is said to be limited

In the Dutch climate, the SolarCabin can produce approximately 4,800 kWh a year. It's not clear how much electricity is required to run one of the units, but its thought it would be less than half or one third of that produced. Given that the design is currently only a concept, any figures will only be projections. By virtue of being one of the competition winners, however, a prototype of the SolarCabin will be created, with funding from the COA, in the hope that it will increase the likelihood of it and the other winners going into full production.

"I strongly believe in the persuasive force of prototypes you can actually touch and experience the spatiality of," explains housing manager of COA Carolien Schippers on the organization's website. "By contributing to the manufacturing of these prototypes we, as COA, want to help speed up the process towards the practical implementation of the designs."

The SolarCabin was conceived to provide conspicuous added value to a community by providing it with surplus electricity that is generated
The SolarCabin was conceived to provide conspicuous added value to a community by providing it with surplus electricity that is generated

Zondag and de Nooijer say it would be possible to construct the SolarCabin in many different configurations and that it would be available with various options. A full kit for building one of the units could be easily delivered to a site and set up quickly, while circular design principles mean that the constituent parts could also be used independently of each other once a unit was disassembled.

The A Home away from Home competition was launched on January 18, with the six winning designs announced on June 29. The winning teams are to develop their full-size prototypes over the coming months.

Sources: SolarCabin, A Home away from Home

4 comments
bobflint
None of the slanted roofs seem to be directed towards the sun, 3 sided layout is not efficient. Perhaps a larger circular layout with the slopes facing inward towards a central water tower catching reflected rays from dawn till dusk...
ljaques
Bob's right. Talk about the worst panel positioning _ever_! Why aren't these flat roofs, which would gather most of the sun most of the day? Or, if they had to be in this particular config, putting the north and south buildings slanted toward the south and the east west buildings flattopped? You lose too much square footage with a slanted roof, anyway. OK, so they won the competition. Time for a solar engineer to make them see sense, _before_ building anything. And let's make sure that all those trees which surround the place are the -shorter- types, eh?
EE_Tim
Well, the picture is just an artists concept with one small problem. Assume the picture represents mid-day. The North set of buildings would not receive any sun on the solar panels. Look at how the artist drew the shadows from the trees. It's the details that matter...
SolarCabin
bobflint, ljacques and EE_Tim, thanks a lot for your feedback! At SolarCabin we have given some thought to this issue of course. First of all the SolarCabin can be used as a single unit or a double unit and in these kind of small scale settings the cabin will have the most optimal orientation towards the sun. In larger scale settings - such as visualized - we have chosen a east, south and west orientation as an example (yes the sun in the aerial view isn't rendered completely right, sorry about that). An east and west orientation will not yield as much energy as compared to the most optimal south orientation. However, the loss it limited and the prices of solar panels are relatively low which makes it acceptable. In this configuration there is an interesting courtyard which will lead better social relations and - also important - the infrastructure for the installations is easier to make. A second issue is that depending on the country where you live, electricity prices maybe higher during peak hours and lower when there is less demand. Regarding this, it does make sense to choose a east/west orientation, because relatively more electricity is generated during morning and evening hours. In the Netherlands where we come from it is more and more common to see houses with panels on both side of a gable roof with east/west orientation! Any further thoughts on this issue welcome. @bobflint: interesting idea to create a (partly) circular layout with a central water tower!