Two years ago, the U.S. Department of Energy issued a challenge to college students across the globe: Design and build a home that is comfortable, affordable, attractive and produces as much or more energy than it consumes, and bring it to Washington, DC, for a week-long competition.
The result was the 2011 Solar Decathlon, the fifth such contest held in North America. The first European Solar Decathlon took place June 2010 in Madrid; the next contest is scheduled for 2012.
From Sept. 23 to Oct. 2, 19 student teams turned Washington’s West Potomac Park into an international solar village. The decathlon bustled with visitors of all ages, eager to learn about sustainable solutions.
The homes reflected each team’s native environment and culture, while solving local and global energy challenges. Team Canada’s TRTL home was inspired by the tipi dwelling of Treaty 7 Native Peoples in Southern Alberta. Team New York built a Solar Roofpod to sit atop mid-rise buildings in urban environments, calling it “a penthouse with a purpose.” The University of Illinois’ Re-home is a housing solution for those left homeless after a natural disaster. Team Belgium’s E-Cube is a home-building kit that assembles in days with a manual similar to the one that comes with IKEA furniture.
Throughout the week, teams competed in 10 contests: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance. Some of the competition relied on hard data, while other areas were more unconventional. Students did laundry to test appliance efficiency and also had neighboring teams over for dinner parties during the home entertainment portion of the competition.
University of Maryland’s WaterShed house took first place overall. The team focused on solar energy with photovoltaic and solar thermal arrays, and water conservation with a green roof and surrounding wetland to recycle graywater. Second place went to Purdue’s INhome, which blended green technologies with traditional aesthetics. New Zealand’s First Light, which featured an innovative drying cupboard that dries clothes quickly by pumping solar-heated hot water through a heat exchanger, finished third.
Solar Thermal SolutionsOf the 19 homes in this year’s competition, 10 used solar thermal technology. The use of solar thermal technology varied among schools.
While focusing on the overall objective of the event, students also found creative uses for local materials, as well as modern technology to build their homes. Team New Zealand’s First Light uses recycled sheep’s wool as insulation, whereas The Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology’s CHIP opted for “outsulation” with a vinyl-coated fabric mesh on the exterior of their structure.
Appalachian State University’s Solar Homestead used 42 bifacial photovoltaic panels on its Great Porch and provided visitors with reflective hats to boost solar gain. Team China’s Y Container was built from prefabricated shipping containers. Several homes managed operations with iPad applications.
If this is what they can do in two years, just imagine what they can do in a lifetime. The future looks bright, indeed.
To learn more about the 2011 Solar Decathlon, visit www.solardecathlon.gov. The next contest is scheduled for 2013.
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