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Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

The Varennes public library, the first institutional net-zero building in the country

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The new public library in Varennes, with its south-facing solar roof

The new public library in Varennes, with its south-facing solar roof

A little news item caught my eye today. Apparently Varennes, a suburb of Montreal, is inaugurating a new public library. What is special is that it is the first institutional building in the whole country to be net-zero.

As Pasquale Harrison-Julien and Thomas Gerber write (in French), “the roof is black with solar panels, the façade green with plants, and the inside white with natural light.”

Natural light is used to its full potential. The windows are also automated to open and bring in fresh air when the outside temperature is pleasant, which also leads to energy savings. (The first generation of energy efficient buildings used to be sealed boxes with heat exchangers for air circulation. No more, as this library shows.)

The building is heated through a combination of solar energy and heat-pump, and has been designed to produce as much energy as it uses, a first in Canada. This remains to be demonstrated, as the building as yet to operate through its first winter, but the operators are confident that it may exceed its design performance and be net-positive. Library users can see what the building produces and consumes. When the writers visited, May 29th, the production was 81.6 kW for a consumption of only 17.8 kW. A video tour of the library, narrated in French, is available here.

The whole project has a budget of $10 million, and has proven very popular; even though it will not be officially finished until the end of the month, there have been already 10,000 new registrations (about half of the town’s population). I did a google search using a variety of search words to find local complaints or controversy – I got exactly zero hits.

Design details have not been forgotten: a cool section for kids, here, bathed in natural light

Design details have not been forgotten: a cool section for kids, here, bathed in natural light

Why sleepy little Varennes, of all places? The town is home to a cluster of research institutes, including the federal CanmetENERGIE and Concordia University’s Solar Energy centre. Public acceptance of inovations doesn’t seem to be an issue there. Where there’s science…

It’s a bit of a shame that this isn’t reported at all in English Canadian mainstream media, because it is a pretty inspiring initiative (you can find reports in English in specialized publications, though: see here, here, or here). Two solitudes, still? Even in solar?

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Written by enviropaul

June 21, 2015 at 11:55 am

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