Sustainable homes are the trend of the future

Renting of solar panels makes technology more accessible

(ANSA) - While families' environmental awareness a decade ago was limited to recycling trash and cutting down on water and electricity use, it is now becoming increasingly easy to work and live in properties that are totally sustainable, with a low environmental impact. Thanks to technological progress and people's desire for better balanced lives in big cities, the construction market now offers countless ecological solutions, going from interior coverings to the harvesting of natural resources.
    "Over the last 10 years we have seen a trend in which families are concerned about offering sustainable experiences to their children," Ana Rocha Melhado, a civil engineering professor who coordinates the Armando Alvares Penteado Foundation (FAAP) masters degree and is the director-partner of proActive Consultoria, told ANSA. "On top of this there is the fact that there is greater international awareness about the issue. "The media cover healthy eating, outdoor spaces, and organic food a great deal. All this concern about the body leads people to want to buy an sustainable property". According to the expert, the design of sustainable buildings should be based on three pillars: energy management, water management and refuse management. Melhado listed the type of solutions that can be incorporated into a project for each of these areas. When it comes to water management, the professor talked about dual flush toilets, faucets with flow limitation and automatic closure mechanisms, pressure reduction valves, individual water-measurement systems and the harvesting of rain water.
    As for trash, the recommendation is to create deposit areas that are ready for refuse to separated and have a source of water and a surface that makes it easy to clean. Rubbish containers for composting can be added too. With regards to energy management, Melhado recommended the adoption of energy-efficiency systems for the property, which monitor the annual consumption in terms of kilowatt hours per square metre and make it possible to set specific targets.
    He added that on top of this there is the adoption of equipment to harvest renewable sources of energy, such as wind and solar power, which can be made simpler via the solar orientation of constructions, which also helps increase natural lighting of the interiors. As for existing buildings, benefits can be derived from changes to their physical structures and to domestic appliances.
    "If you change the whole lighting system, with ecological light bulbs, all the showers, the faucets, the toilets, this is a change that generates big savings in terms of water and electricity," said Melhado.
    "Then if have some extra money to invest, I'd suggest the installation of a rain-water-harvesting system, as long as it is installed by an expert". The expert says that the replacement of the most frequently used devices - fridges, dishwashers, irons etc - can lead to more efficient management of water and energy too. "A programme like this, combined with awareness about the use of water and energy, can lead to a 30-40% reduction in water consumption and a 20% reduction in energy consumption".
    RENEWABLE ENERGY. One of the most well known and widespread solutions on the market remains the installation of solar panels.
    "Any home can have a solar panel," Surya Mendonca, the CEO of Origo Energia, told ANSA. "There are some places and some properties that have greater exposure to the sun, but sunlight gets everywhere. "The roof of a residential home is usually big enough to install solar panels capable of providing the energy needs of a family". The use of these technologies is at the centre of several debates at Ecoenergy 2019 (the International Fair of Clean and Renewable Technologies for Energy Generation) at Sao Paulo May 21-23. Organized by Cipa Fiera Milan, this year the event includes debates on models for the financing of solar panels as well as the management of the projects and the efficient use of photovoltaic panels.
    According to Mendonca, the minimum expenditure for the installation of a solar panel is around 10,000 reais (just under 2,500 dollars) for a small property with a maximum of two families. "Many companies offer the design of the project and installation, along with a connection to the electricity-supply company," the expert said.
    "The initial investment is recovered over the years with savings in electricity spending.
    "When a property with solar panels produces energy in excess, the surplus can be redirected towards the energy grid and registered as credit for the user".
    Being as solar-panel systems require a starting investment, sector firms - such as Origo - have started to think up simpler and cheaper solutions for consumers. These include the possibility of 'renting' solar panels.
    "It's comparable to renting a home, where you just have to pay a monthly amount without an initial investment," said Mendonca, stressing that this model is being experimented in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais.
    "In the same way, the user can have access to solar panels, renting them and saving around 10% on energy.
    "The installation of solar panels is an investment and it certainly isn't the least expensive option - it's an outlay that pays off in the medium and long term.
    "The rental option can offer a more accessible model and we think that the market prospects are good". According to Melhado, the main obstacle that the sector needs to overcome is the cost of investing in sustainable projects.
    "The market is waiting for the creation of a line of financing for the acquisition of solar panels and other systems of this type," said the FAAP academic.
    "It would be significant if there were a public policy on this, as there was for home appliances. "Brazil is currently one of the countries with the biggest number of sustainable properties, it is currently fourth in the global ranking, with a high concentration of buildings in Rio-Sao Paulo, although it is highly concentrated on company offices.
    "But residential buildings are starting to latch on to the trend too.
    "We still have lots of work to so and I believe a great deal in the role education should have in knocking down barriers and bringing about and full-blown cultural transformation".