Engineers and architects from across the globe have come together to display their design, technological and material advancements in solar efficiency at the 2007 Solar Decathlon. The event, featuring twenty teams of college and university students, promotes the advancement of solar technology and design efficiency in the home.
Originally developed by the Department of Energy (DOE) as a program to challenge architects with the aesthetic implementation of solar housing technology, the event now covers the skills and contributions of the engineers involved.
“We needed to design houses that were aesthetic, that had solar systems integrated into the built environment, and to make them work and demonstrate them real time,” says Richard King, lead for applied research at the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Program and director of the Solar Decathlon. “I wasn’t looking for a paper contest where you draw a design on a piece of paper and have some judges look at it; I just wanted to get the real working thing right out here in front of people.”
According to King, engineers play a major role in the whole house system design. They design the HVAC and solar systems and make the house safe and up to code. “We look at innovation and judge good design. Engineers make the house work and that’s very important; the architects make it look good,” he says.
The houses, which are approaching the end of their stay on the National Mall in Washington, DC, are 100-percent solar powered. Each structure relies on different techniques for solar energy collection. The houses use photo voltaic cells, hot water collectors and the passive design technique of insulated thermal mass, which is combined with collected hot water to heat the house. All houses are completely insulated and use ENERGY STAR appliances and compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs).
In addition to conventional building materials, including photo voltaic panels and structurally insulated panels (SIPs), teams use recycled materials including shredded denim for insulation and reused wood. One team even used pieces of old glass to create a mosaic.
Like a traditional decathlon, scoring is broken into ten categories, each worth a different number of points. The first three events, worth the most points, are architectural, engineering and market viability evaluations of the home. These categories focus on how the house looks, how it was built, how the solar systems of the house work and if it would be an appealing house to live in.
Teams are also judged on how well they present the house, how well they maintain temperature and humidity, how efficiently and accurately they can reflect the average U.S. home energy consumption, how well they can provide hot water for a number of routine tasks, how well the house is lit during the day and night, the energy balance of what they charge versus what they consume and how many miles they drive in an electric car charged off of the house.
Within the guidelines of the competition each of the houses has a different design. “I really like the diversity,” says King. “They’ve all got the same constraints or the same design specs to design for, but they’ve all come at the solution from a different point of view, and that’s what’s really interesting here, every house looks different.”
Be sure to read DN's blog coverage on the 2007 Solar Decathlon, and for a look at individual team projects visit the 2007 Solar Decathlon team website.
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