The question is; what is Heliotrope? The answer is quite simple; it is a solar home that is capable of rotating and has resulted in the rising of Sonnenschiff Solar Development along with the German solar sector in what it is today. This amazing home was designed and developed by architect Ralph Disch in 1994. It is capable of generating five times the energy that it consumes. The magic happens in its ability to rotate itself so that it can face sun despite sun’s position in the sky. It also relies on the help from triple-pane thermal glass windows along with a large solar array that is mounted on its roof and a few solar thermal pipes. Heliotrope is known as one of the world’s first truly zero-energy homes.
The building has been named after a biological process that is called heliotropism that is used by plants in Arctic for capturing the maximum amount of light during the growing season that is distinctly shorter than anywhere else. Heliotrope, however, also embraces one more biological process known as paraheliotropism that allows plants to turn away in order to avoid direct sunlight. The Heliotrope achieves this by making use of its one side that is thermally insulated wooden side instead of glass and can provide shade when it is required.
The 6.6-kilowatt hour solar array that is mounted on top of Heliotrope can generate enough energy to keep the structure’s net energy positive. A handrail system has also been incorporated on the roof and doubles up as solar thermal tubing thus providing heat and hot water. Greywater and rainwater is collected and then reused. The house also sports a composting toilet system. Ralph Disch’s interest in solar started off about 25 years ago when he fought to prevent the construction of a nuclear plant happening close to hometown of Freiburg, Germany. He is now running his own architectural firm, Rolf Disch Solar Architecture and is known as a solar pioneer when it comes to retail, residential and commercial designs.
Plus Energy is the name given to the concept of buildings being able to generate more power than they consume and Disch developed this while constructing Heliotrope. Disch is living in the prototype himself while two others have been constructed as well, each costing $2 million, and located in Offenburg and Hilpolstein. The whole structure revolves around a central pole that is about 14 meters high and features a central staircase and electric installation. It has been constructed in a modular fashion and can be compared with the ‘revolving tree-house’ idea. Check out the video below for more details: