Wolfgang Kessling, Transsolar: Low tech and low energy for high comfort

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Wolfgang Kessling, Transsolar: Low tech and low energy for high comfort
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Wolfgang Kessling, Transsolar: Low tech and low energy for high comfort

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Wolfgang Kessling, Transsolar: Low tech and low energy for high comfort
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Cooling and heating consume a lot of power in buildings. But what if the answer to the question of comfort was only partly about mechanical solutions? What if we could create comfort indoors with little or even no energy?

This episode features Wolfgang Kessling of Transsolar, a climate engineering firm in Munich, Germany, that designs low-tech, low-energy systems that deliver conditions of high comfort.

Wolfgang talks about the conditions that affect our perception of thermal comfort; how we might create new combinations from these same variables, at lower cost and impact. He illustrates this with several projects in conditions as diverse as Bangladesh, France and Singapore.

Episode outline

00:06:41 Back to basics: Low energy & low tech
00:07:40 “Put people first, figure out what they need, what kind of comfort, environmental conditions would be healthy, inspiring… and then figure out what is the appropriate technology and technique for the local lifestyle, local conditions, local resources, local climate.”
00:15:46 “People are human sensors… We sense our thermal environment… We sense humidity, we sense air temperature, we sense radiant temperature, we sense air movement. And we equilibrate our (body) temperature and thermal comfort to this.”
00:17:41 The science of comfort
00:22:04 “People can see it… People can perceive it. The best thing that could happen in these buildings (is) that they don’t talk about comfort. They just go into these different environments and perceive them well.”
00:23:39 “I sometimes say, if you are close to the equator, you have a kind of boring climate. One day is like the next day: it’s warm, it’s humid. I think the most challenging climate is where you go from plus 50 degrees to minus 50 degrees.”
00:32:32 “Adaptive comfort research is basically a completely different way on looking at people. It’s not looking on the energy balance, no. It’s observing people in different contexts, in different climates, in different conditions, and saying: “Hey, they feel comfortable. Look how they behave… Let’s figure out what are the environmental conditions.”
00:36:40 Hybrid cooling systems
00:40:44 “The building we are in needs to be comfortable, but we also need fresh air. Indoor air quality (is) measured in terms of carbon content (and) should always be low, (so) that my mind is as fresh as possible. If it’s 800 parts per million, it’s a great environment. My brain stays fresh, my brain stays crisp.”
00:48:55 Becoming Wolfgang
00:53:36 “Don’t be afraid if changes come along. We need to kill our darling sometimes… When we learn more about the world, we understand it in a different context.”
01:00:22 “We need to be super honest… There are no easy answers. We cannot delegate. That’s not what makes this world a better place. What that means for each person is totally different, obviously; but we need to be part of that (change) without waiting for others.”

We are currently finishing this episode transcript. It will be made available here very soon.

Summary

In this episode, Wolfgang Kessling — a physicist by training — talks of the challenge of indoor comfort, and its impact on global energy demand.

In most projects, consultants will prescribe mechanical solutions for heating and cooling, operating within a narrow bandwidth of conditions. Wolfgang argues that this is a failure of imagination and almost always leads to high energy use.

To counter this approach, he traces the scientific roots of thermal comfort and looks to the theory of adaptive comfort which rejects the idea of static, uniform conditions, and posits that human perception depends on context and climate.

In Luma Arles, an art gallery in France, the entry foyer is a thermal transition zone, mediating between outdoor and indoor climate-controlled spaces with a mixed-mode condition that combines passive and active systems.
© Wolfgang Kessling, Transsolar

Designing for adaptive comfort begins with an understanding of where people are, how they behave, and the conditions they find comfortable. In this interview, Wolfgang explains how this principle was operationalised in several projects including the Brac University campus, in Bangladesh.

The Brac University campus has multiple thermal zones. A substantial part of the building relies on passive strategies such as natural ventilation.
© Obilia

In yet another hot-humid setting, Singapore, Wolfgang designed a novel hybrid cooling system for SDE4, a net zero energy building at the National University of Singapore.

The SDE4 relies on passive strategies of favourable solar orientation, porous form and envelope shading to reduce the demand for cooling.
© Rory Gardiner | Courtesy of NUS College of Design and Engineering and Serie Architects

SDE4 combines ceiling fans with moderately cooled ducted air which, together, feel like air-conditioning, and consume substantially less energy than a conventional air conditioning system.

The hybrid system of SDE4 delivers comfort to occupants where they sit. Ceiling fans, relying on sensors, switch on only when an occupant is nearby.
© Rory Gardiner | Courtesy of NUS College of Design and Engineering and Serie Architects

Wolfgang has worked in many climatic zones from hot-humid to desert. In each, the principle of low energy, low tech is the same, however, the outcome is different since this depends on human behaviour and expectations of comfort.

The Brac University campus is situated in the dense urban context of Dhaka in a hot-humid climate. Many who live in this city are acclimatised to passive modes such as natural ventilation, aided by ceiling fans.
© Patrick Bingham-Hall

Wolfgang’s journey has taken him from aspiring nuclear physicist to one of the world’s leading energy-comfort experts. He reminisces how the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 compelled him to ask what kind of world he wants to help build. He switched his focus to solar energy and never looked back.

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Episode Notes

Keep reading if you want to deep dive into this interview’s content and get more out of it. You can also find out more about this episode’s guest/s and sponsor/s, and the team that put it all together.

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

This episode is brought to you by:

The Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction

The Holcim Foundation helps drive systemic change towards a more sustainable built environment. It was founded in 2003 to define and promote the key principles of sustainability for the construction sector and is committed to accelerating the sector’s transformation so that people and the planet can thrive.

The Foundation has investigated various aspects of sustainable construction via a series of roundtables and conferences with international experts. It has also recognised excellent contributions to this field with the Holcim Awards which are considered the world’s most significant competition for sustainable design.

Committed to a holistic approach that recognises the equal importance and interdependence of four key goals, the Foundation combines the collective knowledge, ideas, and solutions of our global community of experts with our recognised platform of international competitions to democratise thought leadership for the entire sector.

Today, the Holcim Foundation is proud to accompany Ecogradia’s new podcast and its host, Nirmal Kishnani, with whom we share a common goal: contribute to a just, equitable, and sustainable future via sustainable construction and design.

W  |  holcimfoundation.org

Facebook  |  Twitter  |  LinkedIn  |  YouTube  |  Instagram

As mentioned in this episode

If you heard it in this episode, we likely have a link for it right here. Click on any topics, people, buildings, places, products and/or technologies listed below to learn more about each of them.

00:02:32 “…When Chernobyl happened in the eighties…”
Chernobyl Accident 1986” | World Nuclear Association
00:08:32 “…this would be the better assembly of passive and active systems…”
Passive Design and Active Building Strategies.” | Sustainable
00:12:54 “…to create an excellent environment in terms of natural ventilation and thermal comfort…”
Thermal comfort” | Health and Safety Executive (HSE)
00:32:31 “…the world of adaptive comfort research…”
The Adaptive Approach” | CLEAR (Comfortable Low Energy Architecture)
00:34:36 “…air conditioning was a most important invention for us…”
Singapore’s founding father thought air conditioning was the secret to his country’s success” | Vox
00:37:56 “…a net-zero energy building can produce all its energy by itself…”
Net Zero Energy Buildings” | Whole Building Design Guide (WBDG)
00:04:21 “…all of the founders of Transsolar went through the same thing…”
Transsolar
00:17:48 “…I would like to mention Ole Fanger, a great scientist working on human comfort…”
P. Ole Fanger” | National Academies Press
00:21:35 “…highest and of finest conditioning for art like Vincent Van Gogh paintings…”
Vincent van Gogh” | Van Gogh Museum
00:22:21 “…this is the project that you did with, am I right, Frank Gehry…”
Frank Gehry” | Britannica
00:22:37 “…there was Annabelle Selldorf from New York…”
Selldorf Architects
00:34:30 “…Singapore’s founding prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew…”
Lee Kuan Yew” | Britannica
00:38:41 “…the MEP engineers, the architects, and we have been, we have been part of that team…”
MEP Engineering” | Peter Basso Associates
00:56:55 “…when I was at University in Munich and had the blessing to work at Professor Sizmann’s place…”
Sizmann, R. L. (Rudolf L.) 1929-” | WorldCat Identities
00:57:04 “…solar energy studies at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich…”
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (LMU)

 

00:03:39 “…I went to Munich studying solar physics…”
Munich” (Bavaria, Germany) | Britannica
00:09:25 “…One of my favourite projects that you work on is the Brac University campus…”
BRAC University, Dhaka, Bangladesh” | Transsolar
00:09:31 “…which is situated in Dhaka in Bangladesh…”
Dhaka” (Dhaka Division, Bangladesh) | Britannica
00:10:42 “…School of Arts in Singapore was a kind of a prototype project…”
School of The Arts” | WOHA
00:21:08 “…Luma Park des Ateliers, which is in the South of France…”
LUMA Parc des Ateliers: Les Forges + La Mécanique Générale, Arles, France” (Arles, Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur, France) | Transsolar
00:24:23 “…places like Winnipeg in Manitoba in the centre of Canada…”
Winnipeg” (Manitoba, Canada) | Britannica
00:24:28 “…they receive more sun than Milano in North Italy…”
Milano” (Milano, Lombardy, Italy) | Britannica
00:26:10 “…In a city like, say, Lahore, Pakistan…”
Lahore” (Punjab, Pakistan) | Britannica
00:36:26 “…School of Design number four in the National University in Singapore…”
National University in Singapore (NUS)
00:36:42 “…the SDE 4 building at the National University of Singapore…”
Climate-positive: NUS School of Design and Environment, Singapore” | Transsolar
00:49:55 “…people came to us from Saudi Arabia…”
Saudi Arabia” | Britannica
00:51:52 “…I drive to Frankfurt…”
Frankfurt am Main” (Hessen, Germany) | Britannica

There are no design features mentioned in this episode.

00:02:47 “…I was in a student initiative developing solar collectors…”
Solar collector” | Energy Education
00:37:03 “…it has solar PV on the roof that matched the energy demand of the building.…”
Solar Photovoltaic Technology Basics” | National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)

Host
Nirmal Kishnani

Producer
Maxime Flores

Editorial assistants
Amulya Dhulipala
Ann Mathew

Sound technician & Editor
Kelvin Brown  |  Phlogiston

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