SolarVille: A miniature wooden city with technology to democratise access to renewable energy

In order to fight against climate change, cities of the future should have buildings and homes with renewable energy as a predominant solution. However, although technology has changed a lot in the last decades and its prices are decreasing, there is still a lot to be researched regarding their rollout and daily use. Will every home be self-sufficient? How will cars be charged? Who will manage electricity grids for small providers? It is necessary to find a complicated balance between the energy that is generated, used and excess energy. Buildings need to be prepared for everything to work optimally.

For this reason, the Space10 research laba sort of ‘ideas factory’ by IKEA have created a miniature city called SolarVille. The tiny buildings have been built to a 1:50 scale, yet are equipped with everything they need in order to simulate how a ‘real’ city can work. Payment systems are even included.

 

 

SolarVille is only an experiment, a model, an almost utopian creation. However, it allows us to understand the relation between complex components of a smart city better. To begin with, a large spotlight imitates the sun and can move, switch on or switch off to simulate day and night. There are also small solar panels on the roofs of some buildings which generate the necessary electricity and paths of LED lights showing the flow from one place to another. The houses consume that electricity and some can even store it. But not all of them have solar panels… So, what happens with those ones then?

The solution is to join all the panels to a smart local grid connecting all the buildings, through which the generated electricity flows to where it can be consumed. This kind of electricity can literally be ‘sold’ neighbour-to-neighbour, but it has to be organised somehow. This is where another technology comes into play: blockchain.

Blockchain acts as a kind of public ‘ledger’ which all participants can read. They can see who has added energy to their grid and energy consumption. Anyone can access the transactions, but it is impossible to ‘manipulate’ them. Therefore, accounts can be kept by cutting out any intermediaries and carrying out real-time transactions, without major requirements or costs. It is impossible to be more democratised than this.

The concept ‘smart contracts’ also exists in blockchain and they can be activated when certain conditions apply, thus providing more flexibility. The result is a network where both the inventory of available goods (the available energy and where is has been generated) and individual consumption are more transparent, quicker and safer.

There are many factors that influence the way it all works, but seeing it on a table with charming miniature houses, solar panels and cables allows us to visualise the idea better. It is a clever way for everyone, from local councils to developers, utility companies and homeowners, to understand better how everything is interrelated.

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{Photos: Irina Boersma y Nikolaj Rhode / Space10}

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