The Owner-Builder Network

Sonnenschiff… a solar village to work, rest and play!


Australia gets more sunshine than any other country on Earth. It is, and always has been a pioneer in solar energy developments. Yet it is Germany, not Australia, that leads the world in solar energy production. Sun Ship (Sonnenschiff) and the integated Solar Village (Solarsiedlung) in the city of Frieburg is a leading example of this phenonemon, generating fully FOUR times more energy than it consumes!

The western facade of Sonnenschiff - an integrated solar village!
The western facade of Sonnenschiff – an integrated solar village!

Net-zero projects have had plenty of press in the past two or three years but Sonnenschiff goes much further by being net positive. The self-sustaining development uses smart solar design and lots and lots of photovoltaic panels, all carefully positioned to maximise effectiveness.

It’s logical and seems like a simple strategy, but all too often architects and builders add solar setups as an afterthought or as a tool to get green certification without regard to efficiency.

Designed by solar devotee and architect, Rolf Disch, the Sonnenschiff (Solar Ship) and Solarsiedlung (Solar Village) development takes the reverse position. The initial design concept called for large rooftop solar arrays, doubling as sun shades. The building specifications also called for the development to meet Passivhaus standards!

Sonnenschiff concept drawings
Sonnenschiff concept drawings

Envisioned as an entire community,the medium-density project balances size, accessibility, green space, and solar exposure. A total of 52 homes make up a neighborhood integrated with Sonnenschiff, a mixed-use residential, commercial and retail building designed for maximum livability with a minimal footprint.

Every home features a skillion roof with wide eaves that ensure shading from the summer sun but allow the lower winter sun to penetrate deep into the homes. The penthouses, which rise above the Sonnenschiff, are suuounded by roof gardens supported by a rainwater recycling system that also feeds the toilets with greywater. All the buildings – residential and commercial, use wood chip boilers for heat in the winter to further reduce the development’s environmental footprint.

A colorful and dynamic façade, offices and stores, accessable gardens and paths link the inhabitants with a common communal purpose.

Solar panels have become much more affordable in the last two or three years. Early panels were 16% efficient while today, 23% is very much the norm. Just this week an Australian team announced that they have developed a process that is 80%+ efficient at converting sunlight to power! Battery technology is also moving ahead in leaps and bounds.

Solar is here to stay!

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