When Indonesian energy company Pertamina decided to build a new headquarters, it went big: Not only is the design 99 stories high, but it will be the first supertall tower in the world to generate its own power.
At the top of the building, a funnel captures wind, sucks it inside, and speeds it up to run a series of vertical wind turbines. Other buildings on the new campus will be covered in solar panels. Pertamina is also working with its architecture firm, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill LLP (SOM), to vet the possibility of using geothermal power—a type of energy that’s uniquely suited for Indonesia because it’s a volcanic island chain.
Geothermal systems in Indonesia can tap into superheated subterranean steam with a single pipe, unlike typical systems that are more complicated, says Scott Duncan, the SOM director who led the project. "It would essentially provide an unlimited energy source for the tower and campus and could make the tower the world’s first energy-positive supertall building."
The design is just as focused on saving energy as generating it. Sun-shading "leaves" on two sides of the building cut glare and shade the brightest sunlight while still keeping the inside of the offices bright enough to avoid most artificial lighting. Instead of power-sucking air conditioners, the building uses water-based radiant cooling systems.
Along with other strategies, the energy-saving design elements mean that the campus—which will include a mosque, a performing arts and exhibition center, and sports facilities along with the office space—can keep energy use low enough that renewable power may be able to cover its entire energy needs.
"We are striving for complete energy independence," says Duncan. Part of the motivation is purely practical. Jakarta still has an unreliable power grid, and if the campus generates its own power, work (and play) won’t get interrupted. The buildings also won’t have to rely on diesel fuel generators if the city’s power goes down.
Other skyscrapers may soon start copying some of the building’s design solutions. The wind funnel, for example, could easily work in other locations. SOM explored a similar wind funnel in another project in China, and Duncan points out that Indonesia isn’t a particular windy place. Whatever the specific designs are, it’s likely that more new skyscrapers will start building in comprehensive energy-generation plans.
"It is extremely exciting for the architects and engineers at SOM to be working on a tower and campus for which energy is the primary design consideration," says Duncan. "Historically, supertall buildings have focused on structural challenges: resisting gravity and lateral forces from seismic and wind. The rules have changed, and energy has become the defining problem for our generation."