Traditionally, an alpine hut used to be self-sustainable in every conceivable way. Today there’s electricity, air conditioning, internet and gourmet food available, so mountain cabanas aren’t very 'green' any more. Modern methods of energy generation combined with building automation techniques have the potential to keep the high standards AND let the huts become self-sustainable again.
Luckily, this kind of cabin isn’t around anymore. Even in remote Austrian crevasses without sunshine there’s power, real food, drinks and Wi-Fi. Of course, there’s a price to pay for the comfort. The »alpine hut of the future« will have to reduce its environmental impact, and there’s a prototype around already: The new »Monte Rosa Hut« of the Swiss Alpine Club. It represents a research project of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. This develops and tests new concepts for increasing energy efficiency in extended use under difficult conditions, using new technologies to optimally design such buildings so that they can be operated on a sustainable basis. This also includes the building automation from Siemens Building Technologies.
Its employee, engineer and amateur mountain climber Ivan Loetscher monitors the plants on site and keeps the operating stations in working order. The entire hut is to produce only a third of the toxic substances in comparison to the smaller hut that preceded it. The interim result after two years of intensive operation according to ETH: The hut and its technology have already proven themselves to be sustainable.
The hut is considered to be exemplary in terms of its energy and resource efficiency. Everything is geared toward sustainability, from the building materials in use to its generation of power using photovoltaic installations on its external surfaces to its storage and repeated reuse of water. If necessary, a CHP plant using canola oil starts up. This allows the hut to be largely self-sufficient.
The Monte Rosa hut has proven itself to be a comfortable lodge as well as an important testing ground for energy-efficient building technology and building automation. Ivan Loetscher checks the data on the computer in the machine room of the hut, where the technical infrastructure converges.
For example, the software for building automation controls the heating and ventilation in the building, collects measurement data from the photovoltaic installation and the rechargeable batteries, and records data from heat sensors and energy meters. Of particular interest are the inner workings of the cabin, which already produce up to approximately 90% of the required energy thanks to energy-saving features, sophisticated solar power systems, and the supplementary CHP plant.
The alpine hut is operated largely on a self-sufficient and automated basis, even when the hut is not occupied or hardly occupied outside of the season. Individual functions can be easily checked at the operating stations. Roughly 150 data points are measured and controlled. The data is transmitted to Zurich via satellite on a continuous basis, where it is evaluated for research purposes.
A self-sufficient power and water supply, an innovative new facade according to the principle of a thermos bottle, and the life cycle assessment from construction to disposal demonstrate an interesting concept. A development step to come is the inclusion of occupancy numbers and weather forecasts in the system. The operating costs of the alpine hut could be reduced even more with anticipatory control concepts.