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Solar Decathlon students show what’s possible now

Aug. 29, 2011
WASHINGTON — Students from 19 universities will show off some of the world’s most energy efficient dwellings when the 2011 Solar Decathlon begins on the National Mall Sept. 22-Oct. 2.

WASHINGTON — Students from 19 universities from across the globe will show off some of the world’s most energy efficient dwellings when the 2011 Solar Decathlon begins on the National Mall here Sept. 22-Oct. 2. The students will begin assembling their houses Sept. 13.

For two weeks, teams of college and university students from across the U.S. and the world will compete to design, build, and operate the most affordable, attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, the competition will highlight affordable homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems that are available today. The competition also supports the Administration's goal of creating a clean energy economy, while saving American families and businesses money and reducing our dependence on fossil fuels.

"These students are tomorrow's leaders in helping develop a clean energy economy," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. "Their innovative projects will help raise public awareness about energy efficiency, help save consumers money and reduce carbon pollution."

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The selected teams and their projects represent a diverse range of design approaches, building technologies, and geographic locations, climates and regions - including urban, suburban and rural settings. They also aim to reach a broad range of target housing markets, including low-income, disaster relief, retirement, and more.

Earlier this year, DOE and the Department of the Interior relocated the Solar Decathlon to the National Mall’s West Potomac Park, on the banks of the Potomac River along the path between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. The event will be held on the peninsula just south of the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial between the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Potomac River.

The participating schools are:

• Appalachian State University, Boone, N.C.
• City College of New York, N.Y.
• Team Florida, composed of Florida State University, Tallahassee, the University of Central Florida, Orlando, the University of Florida, Gainesville, and The University of South Florida, Tampa.
• Stevens Institute of Technology, Hoboken, N.J., and The New School, New York, N.Y.
• Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium
• Tongji University, Shanghai, China
• Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, and University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Mass.
• Rutgers the State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, N.J., and New Jersey Institute of Technology, Newark, N.J.
• Middlebury College, Middlebury, Vt.
• Florida International University, Miami
• The Ohio State University, Columbus
• University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
• Old Dominion University, Norfolk, Va., and Hampton University, Hampton, Va.
• University of Maryland, College Park, Md.
• Purdue University, West Lafayette, Ind.
• University of Calgary, Calgary, Alberta, Canada
• The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, Tenn.
• The Southern California Institute of Architecture, Los Angeles, and California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, Calif.
• Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
• The University of Hawaii, Honolulu, had been selected to participate but notified DOE in June that it was withdrawing.

A panel of engineers, scientists, and experts from DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory evaluated the applications for the 2011 competition. Teams were required to meet specific criteria to demonstrate their viability, including their 1) ability to design and build an innovative, entirely solar-powered house, 2) to raise additional funds, 3) to support the project through a well-integrated curriculum, and 4) to assemble a team necessary to carry the project through to completion.

In addition, a panel of professionals from American Institute of Architects, National Association of Home Builders, the U.S. Green Building Council, building industry media, and the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers evaluated conceptual designs from prospective teams. The results of their evaluations, combined with scores based on the four criteria listed above, determined the 2011 Solar Decathlon teams.

The National Fire Sprinkler Association is also excited about this year’s Solar Decathlon because all of the houses will contain a residential fire sprinkler system in accordance with the 2009 International Residential Code. NFSA views the Solar Decathlon as an opportunity to invite Congressional and Executive Branch representatives to tell them about the future of residential fire protection. NFSA member Ryan Fire Protection, Noblesville, Ind., worked with the PurdueUniversity team on its sprinkler system, reported NFSA Great Lakes Regional Manager Ron Brown. United Association Sprinkler Fitters Local 669 has volunteered labor for the house, and Plumbers Supply, Chicago Backflow and Legend Pump donated materials.

The students often take their design inspiration from the location of their schools.

The University of Maryland's Solar Decathlon house includes more than 40 solar panels on a structure that takes its inspiration the nearby Chesapeake Bay. The Terrapin’s “Watershed” house has two sections with sloping roofs. The sections are connected by a bathroom. Rainwater collected from the pitched roofs is filtered into wetlands.

Native Maryland plants and an edible garden will also surround the home.
"Water that goes through our holding tank should be cleaner than rainwater coming out of the sky," said landscape architecture grad student Matt Sickle.

Appalachian StateUniversity’s entry, called The Solar Homestead, was inspired by cabins and outbuildings used by settlers in the Appalachian Mountains. The 1,000-sq.ft., two-bedroom, one-bath house has a detached guest quarter. Solar thermal and solar photovoltaic collectors are part of its zero-energy design.

With the only Canadian entry in this year's competition, students from the University of Calgary have designed a safe, durable net-zero solar powered home that addresses critical issues in Aboriginal housing, in collaboration with the Treaty 7 First Nations of Southern Alberta. Called Cenovus-TRTL: Technological Residence Traditional Living (TRTL is pronounced “turtle.” The TRTL project is the University of Calgary's second entry in the Solar Decathlon.

Students from both Hampton and Old Dominion universities have joined forces to compete in the Solar Decathlon with their entry, called Unit 6 Unplugged. At Tidewater, Va., the students unveiled their vision for the future — an energy-efficient house that captures the “Arts and Crafts” design style of homes dotted throughout historic Norfolk.

One of the team’s key design features is the transitional sunspace. During the warmer months the sunspace acts as an exterior porch — motorized windows open up to let air and sunlight filter in. During colder months, the sunspace transitions into an enclosed space that functions as a heat sink — the floor absorbs heat and disperses it throughout the house overnight.

As with other Solar Decathlon entries, the house incorporates several renewable energy technologies. A photovoltaic array is integrated into the sloped roof and, with an efficiency of more than 18%, the panels act as a main power source. In addition, light switches powered by remote transmitters can be placed anywhere in the house and never require replacement batteries.

A separate mechanical core stores the house’s mechanical system in one centralized place, keeping waste heat and noise outside the main living quarters and allowing easy maintenance access.

Post-competition, Unit 6 Unplugged will return to Norfolk, where it will serve as a design studio shared by architecture and engineering students from both schools. This will continue the inter-disciplinary collaboration fostered by the Solar Decathlon.

The Team Massachusetts 4D home will have building-integrated photovoltaic panels. Taken as a whole, the PV system is rated at 6.4 kW AC, a size that guarantees the 4D Home to be net-zero over the course of a year. The hybrid solar thermal panels are the most innovative technology used in the 4D Home. Unlike typical solar thermal collectors, which are mounted independently, Sun Drum’s collector panel mounts directly to the back surface of a PV module to form a hybrid panel. As the heat is transferred to the domestic hot water tank, the process cools the PV panels, increasing their efficiency.

The Massachusetts 4D house will be tightly constructed to Passive House standards. An inverter-driven, ducted 16 SEER heat pump is used to minimally heat and cool the house.

The next Solar Decathlon will be held in 2013 and DOE is mulling over moving the event to a different locale.

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