Houston Buying 25 Shipping-Container Offices for Emergency Solar Power

A small fleet of modified shipping containers outfitted with adjustable solar panels will soon serve as mobile emergency power supplies for the city of Houston. City officials are currently negotiating a contract to purchase 25 of the units, which are based on a prototype originally deployed as the green-themed sales office of a Montrose condo project. The solar-powered containers, called SPACE (“Solar Powered Adaptive Container for Everyone“), were created by a joint venture of local architecture firm Metalab, Joey Romano’s Harvest Moon Development, and design firm ttweak (best known for the popular “Houston. It’s Worth It.” marketing campaign). City sustainability director Laura Spanjian announced at the opening of the University of Houston’s Green Building Components Expo last month that SPACE and energy company Ameresco had been selected through a public-application process to supply the city with the mobile “solar generators.” Spanjian now tells Swamplot the contract should be complete “in a few weeks.”


After a hurricane or during any prolonged power outage, the containers would power medical devices and refrigerate and store medicines in various locations throughout the city. They’d also be used to charge phones, computers, and communications equipment. The units were built to withstand hurricane-force winds (as long as the panels are folded down). When off-duty, the SPACE units would hang out at fire stations (providing them with a little solar power on the side). Metalab’s Joe Meppelink tells Swamplot the units will be built in the new Campo Sheetmetal Works shop on Telephone Rd., and that several of them will be finished out for use at festivals and city events.

The earliest versions of the SPACE units were deployed as sales centers for Harvest Moon’s Mirabeau B. condo project at the corner of Hyde Park and Waugh in Montrose — where they handily survived Hurricane Ike. With support from the UH College of Architecture’s Green Building Components program, the team later developed an off-grid version that includes a battery backup, allowing the mobile offices to maintain power for several days without sun.

Photos: Metalab

18 Comment

  • I’m curious about the cost of one of these things; or the unit cost if City bought a bunch? Looks very cool.

  • I remember this distinctly on Waugh. Aren’t we in a budget crisis?!?

  • The fire department is told they have to cut $10 million from their budget, immediately, but the city is buying these. Oh, and it sounds like HFD will be expected to maintain them too.

  • I see a Sanyo ductless mini split AC :)

  • Man i hated that “houston, it’s worth it” ad campaign.

  • I wonder if they are going to put this up for a vote AFTER they invest in it like the red light cameras!?

  • Note to self: only schedule sunny days after any natural disaster. There, that should handle it.

  • I think I see a threat to the urban in-fill apartment market here, especially if we could get plumbing installed and stackem high, HCAD might have a hard time assessing that value.

  • I need to see more info on these–such as initial cost, cost to maintain & operate, amount of juice they create, etc. But my initial thought is what an incredible waste of money. It can’t be close in cost to just buying a few generators and having them ready.

  • Oy Gevault! Earlier this week I saw the tax accessor’s truck parked outside my home and now I see why…. to buy some more dumb boondoggles. I should invent something ridiculous and sell it to the city too.

  • Generators? Yea, cause gas is so much cheaper than sunlight.

  • Did the city really just spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on glorified cell phone chargers? Something stinks.

  • This was an Obie One grant.

  • Solar generators would be an excellent support system to the gas guzzling generators that exist now. I’d think that minimizing the need for gas in a time of crisis is good… or did we all forget the long lines at the gas stations?

    It’s a positive direction in promoting solar energy, which according to you all is something that the City of Houston should not be promoting.

    Way to go on thinking into a better future guys.


  • I thought I remembered there being one more company involved in the initial “prototype” version of this project… it was Merge something. Yeah! Merge Studios, that’s who did the fabrication work on the the Mirabeau B containers.

  • Where can I obtain info on metal container need cpontact info please.