During our recent trip to Colorado, we had the chance to visit the Rocky Mountain Institute in Snowmass, founded in 1982 by Amory Lovins as a research institute in matters such as sustainability, energy, and efficient use of resources.
The original headquarters of the Institute, that has now become Lovins’ residence, is one of the first passive buildings ever built in the world.
The structure of the building is oriented towards south, in order to maximize solar gains, while the north side is built into the ground.
The building includes a greenhouse - with 4-pan glazings - where banana trees are grown despite the fact that you are located in the middle of the Rocky Mountains at 2.000+ meters of elevation.
The energy efficiency of the building in mainly archived via its thermal envelope, designed to minimize energy losses in winter, and to maximize the heat obtained from the sun. Overheating in summer is not a major concern, given the altitude of the location and the high temperature difference between day and night during the warmest months of the year.
One of the main activities of the Institute for years has been renewable energy sources. On the roof of the building, there are solar hot water panels as well as photovoltaics.
Even though this building is more than thirty years old, it remains extremely efficient, to the point of producing more energy than what it consumes.
Given the importance of the Rocky Mountain Institute worldwide, and the innovation that this building has represented for over thirty years, our visit was no doubt one of the highlights of our trip to Colorado.
A few kilometers away, in the town of Basalt, we also had a chance to sneak a peak at the construction site of the new building of the Institute, planned to be finished by the end of 2015.