The International Passive House Conference

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Thursday, May 26th, 2016
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In late April, the 20th International Passive House Conference was held in Darmstadt, Germany. The pilgrimage is made from all over the world by hundreds of delegates keen to share, learn and showcase the building standard as it is articulated in various countries, cultures and climate zones.

The conference welcomed 1,000 delegates from 56 countries and offered a few key messages. Here are some of the main takeaways:

1.     Passivhaus is durable

A major reason for returning to the birthplace of the Passivhaus standard was to revisit the original ‘experiment,’ the Kranichstein Passivhaus. Wolfgang Feist’s own home, this building has very firmly stood the test of time in terms of comfort and energy efficiency. The main session to open the conference saw Feist himself present the outcome of now 25 years of study, with himself the Guinea pig.

2.     The economics stack up

There is now 25 years of data on both well-established and new projects, from small scale residential to high-rise office, schools, apartment buildings, to districts and schemes, as well as retrofits from the social sector, private projects and office buildings. The message was clear: Passive House works and makes clear economic sense.

“Over a third of the total energy consumed in industrialised countries is used for building operation, mainly for heating and cooling. About 85 percent of this energy on average can be saved with the Passive House Standard. Additional investment for a Passive House construction are usually amortised within a few years due to the low running costs,” the Passivhaus Institut notes.

The occasional exception is found in some retrofit projects, known as EnerPHit, but the new tool to be released in the update to the Passive House Planning Package will help address some of the issues by helping plot the pathway over the longer term.

3.     The tools are evolving – and the updates are going to be big

The PHPP 9 is up to v9.5; version 9.6 (free to current holders of v9) will be out sometime around June and will include, among other things, a great feature for retrofit planning. Users will have the ability plan a retrofit project over a number of years, a feature borne from the recognition that retrofits nearly always don’t happen in one fell swoop (German surveys revealed only 15 per cent of renovations occurred in this way).

There was plenty of discussion and case studies surrounding how the PHPP has been exhaustively validated as an accurate energy modeling tool, including against numerous real life monitored built examples. Case closed: the PHPP is accurate.

The DesignPH v2 will include a few key updates, including the more accurate modeling of horizon shading (with a very cool import from Google Earth), the ability to import selected elements to PHPP (instead of a complete overwrite) and a very useful optimisation visualisation tool, the results tracker. It will also be possible to track your changes through iterations of the design and go back to something that perhaps worked better. Renewables can also be modeled and calculated against the building footprint (a valuable link to the PER calculation). All changes making the software plugin a much more powerful design tool for Passivhaus projects at any scale.

4.     Passivhaus in China is big. Very big

There were nearly 200 delegates from China alone, the biggest representation outside of Germany. Specific workshops on cooling and dehumidification were booked out, and the conference session on Passivhaus in China was packed – even standing room was scarce. At the affiliate representative meeting after the conference, the Chinese representative spoke of how things are not just blossoming, they’re booming. From a base of zero certified designers in 2015, there are now 42 and substantial rollout for the training. The Passivhaus Institut is responding to huge demand from the region, including project certification, research and demand for product recognition (in the form of product certification. And the Chinese government sees huge value in the application of Passivhaus, recently announcing the development of a further 100,000 square metres.

5.     Passivhaus is the future and for the betterment of people

Things got a little philosophical at some points, including during talks by the president of the Club of Rome, regarding the inequity evident in all sections of society and all regions, and the keen pursuit of humanity for betterment of our living standards. The Director of Sustainable Energy for the UN Economic Commission for Europe, Scott Foster, came to the stage stunned by the level of consideration of the conference for genuine commitment to scientific progress and climate change abatement, and talked of how partnerships within the Passivhaus community were leading the way in both improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions, ultimately helping to progress the work of the United Nations. Claude Turmes, member of the European Parliament, decreed that “the Passive House movement was decisive in achieving the majority in the EU for the Nearly Zero-Energy Building.” Truly pioneering.

A few of the best sessions included Passivhaus Experience from UK & Ireland, and Passive House & Renewables. It was impossible to get around to everything, but we used a divide and conquer approach amongst the Aussie delegation to ensure we brought the key messages home.

It’s a fantastic event. Unfortunately, it isn’t possible to attend every year, but at the very least we hope to provide a locally relevant event at the South Pacific Passive House Conference. Stay tuned.

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