Sekisui House Ltd has announced that it will develop a high-grade condominium building as a net zero energy house (ZEH), whose energy consumption is zero in total, in Nagoya City, Aichi Prefecture.
The company claims that it will be Japan’s first “ZEH condominium.” The construction of the building will start in the summer of 2017, and it is scheduled to be completed in the spring of 2019.
A 4kW solar power generation system will be installed in each condominium unit, and the entire building will have an output of 50kW. Also, the “Enefarm” cogeneration system will be set up in each unit.
Honda teams up with Sekisui House on smart home robots
With one in five Japanese citizens now aged 65 or older, various robotics technologies are being developed to prolong independent living and improve quality of life at home. The main alternative to nursing homes and hospitals would be smart homes designed around the needs of the elderly. Earlier this week, Honda announced that it will test some of its life support robots in a mock household environment at the Future Life Showroom, in Sekisui House's brand new SUMUFUMU Lab.
Honda's robotics program, famous for its humanoid robot mascot ASIMO, has branched out to include transportation devices that are the focus of this experiment. The UNI-CUB – Honda's answer to the Segway – is a personal mobility vehicle that started life as the unicycle-like U-3X. It's more compact than you might think, and is surprisingly maneuverable inside a home for those who have difficulty walking.
The Walking Assist Device with Bodyweight Support System is the other robotic device taking part in these tests. It's a lower-body exoskeleton that supports some of your weight, reducing the load on the leg muscles and joints. You sit on a seat, slide your feet into its shoes, and let the robotic legs assist you as you climb stairs or crouch to pick something up. This device has also been tested in Honda's factories where employees often suffer back injuries from repeated crouching.
Both of these robots were initially showcased in an office environment, but now Honda will explore the broader potential in their applications around the home. This push will hopefully alleviate some of the pressure on the health care workers who must care for Japan's rapidly-aging society in the coming decade.
For its part, Sekisui House has been engineering ergonomic living spaces for nearly 40 years. In 1990 it opened a "Comprehensive Housing Institute," which puts the company ahead of the industry in the development of smart homes and related technologies. Earlier, Sekisui House teamed up with Nissan to develop a power system between a house and electric cars.
In its press release, Honda explains that the two companies will evaluate the project on an ongoing basis to accelerate the development of practical residential robotics technology and establish a collaborative business model moving forward.
"Ene-Farm" home fuel cell moves into a condo
Panasonic and Tokyo Gas have continued joint development of their "Ene-Farm" home fuel cell unit, which became the world's first commercialized fuel cell system targeted at household heating and electricity generation when it went on sale in Japan in May 2009. The latest model is aimed at use in condominiums and features a number of modifications to ensure the units meet the more stringent installation standards placed on those buildings.
Like previous Ene-Farm units, the new model uses a fuel processor to extract hydrogen from the city gas supply and react it with oxygen from the atmosphere to generate heat that is then used to generate electricity as well as supply hot water.
By increasing the airtightness of the unit and thickening the exterior panels, the companies have made it possible for the new fuel cell to be installed in a condominium's pipe shaft in the open hallway. Pipe shafts run vertically through condominium floors and house water and gas pipes, while open hallways are hallways with residential units on one side and exterior space on the other.
The legs of the unit have been strengthened to improve earthquake resistance, while the exhaust structure has been integrated into a single outlet to improve wind resistance and allow operation in high winds of up to 58 knots (108 km/h / 67 mph) to make it possible to install the unit in the upper floors of a multi-story condo.
Capable of generating between 250 and 700 W, Panasonic and Tokyo Gas claim the new Ene-Farm fuel cell for condominiums can reduce primary energy consumption by 37 percent and cut CO2 emissions by 49 percent compared to sourcing electricity from thermal power plants and heating water using city gas. The companies estimate that = this could add up to savings of 30,000 to 40,000 yen (US$305 to $420) on an annual utility bill and reduce annual CO2 emissions by around one ton.
Tokyo Gas plans to release the new fuel cell for condominiums in Japan from April 1, 2014 and is aiming for sales of 500 units over the following year. It has already had interest from a couple of real estate companies that are keen to adopt the new fuel cell in two properties comprising a total of 456 units.