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Photo of Solar Decathlon Director Richard King being interviewed by a videographer.

Solar Decathlon News Blog

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon News Blog provides regular updates about Solar Decathlon news and events. Learn what's happening now, and let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Solar Decathlon Continues International Expansion with Solar Decathlon Middle East

June 18, 2015

By Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is proud to announce the newest member of its global family: Solar Decathlon Middle East, to be held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

On June 17, the U.S. Consul General in Dubai Robert Waller and Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority and Vice Chairman Dubai Supreme Council of Energy His Excellency Saeed Mohammed Ahmad Al Tayer signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to collaborate on the development of Solar Decathlon Middle East.

The MOU marks the first step toward a Solar Decathlon competition to be held in Dubai and spells out a collaboration between the U.S. Department of Energy and Dubai to produce two Solar Decathlon Middle East competitions: the first in 2018 and the second in 2020. A call for applicants for the 2018 competition will be issued this year.

Photo of a group of people standing around and seated at a table.

On June 17, representatives from the United States and United Arab Emirates signed a memorandum of understanding to produce two Solar Decathlon Middle East competitions. Shown here are Richard King, Solar Decathlon director, U.S. Department of Energy (standing, second from left); Robert Waller, consul general, U.S. Consulate Dubai; and HE. Saeed Al Tayer, managing director and CEO, Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (seated, left to right). (Courtesy of David Duerden, U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi)

“We are excited to welcome a new international competition to the Solar Decathlon family,” said Richard King, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. “Solar Decathlon Middle East will further accelerate the adoption of renewable energy and energy-efficient products and design around the world by reaching a new group of students and an even wider public audience.”

Solar Decathlon Middle East will integrate local and regional characteristics while adopting the same philosophy, principles, and model used by the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. His Excellency Al Tayer said he believes Solar Decathlon Middle East will be a unique opportunity to generate incentives among Emirate students to design buildings that are energy-efficient and self-sufficient and contribute to sustainable growth.

Per the MOU, Dubai and the United States will exchange information regarding rules, scoring, judging, safety, and site and team selection for Solar Decathlon Middle East. In addition to educating students, the competition is intended to encourage private-sector participation in the energy sector and promote sustainable development and land-use planning.

Since the first Solar Decathlon in 2002, 224 collegiate teams—nearly 32,500 students—have participated in the flagship U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, Solar Decathlon China, Solar Decathlon Europe, and Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean.

The next U.S. competition will be held in Irvine, California, October 8–18, 2015.

 

EASI House Reflects New England—With a Dash of Central America

June 15, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana team is seeking a blend in its Efficient, Affordable, Solar, Innovation—or EASI—House.

A first-time Solar Decathlon entrant, the team wants its project to reflect two geographical areas. The team also wants to ensure that its modular home is both energy-efficient and affordable. In fact, the team is aiming for a price tag of $80,000 to $100,000 for the structure—a goal made realistic by working with a modular home company to help build the design.

“The primary aspect of the house we’re focusing on is the affordability,” says decathlete Jacob Harrelson, the team’s project manager, on campus at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. “We’re making it a modular house design so it can be picked up and taken anywhere you want. And within the competition limits, we’re trying to keep it on the small side.”

Computer-generated illustration of a solar-powered house.

EASI House from Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana features an affordable, modular design. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana team)

Still, the team wants the compact two-bedroom, 680-ft2 house to be comfortable even with a minimalist feel.

“We’re trying to build a house that’s reasonable for the average Baby Boomers retiring or new family who still wants space for kids,” says decathlete Nathan Lane, a civil engineering major and also the team project engineer.

As such, the team is trying to balance the space for living rooms and bedrooms. The team is using space-saving furniture to maximize living space and custom-designed, high-performance windows to maximize solar heat gain.

The team will opt for a little more insulation in the walls, but that could be cut back in locations with warmer climates (such as Central America). Twenty 250-watt photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof will provide solar energy for the ultra-efficient house.

One hope is that the design serves as a model for modular home builders to replicate in the future—with the costs going down with increased scale.

“It won’t be cookie-cutter. You can take the design and make it your own,” Lane says.

Also, such a modular structure can be placed on a truck and brought to the competition ready to be hooked up with minimal assembly.

The Central American students will contribute decoration and other finishing touches for the inside. “They’re going to add interior finishes,” Lane says. “That’s their culture in our project.”

So far, there haven’t been any communication issues because the Spanish-speaking students also speak English. And, if needed, the New England crew can toss in some Spanish—un poquito—for effect.

“We mostly communicate through late-night email and Skype chats,” says Harrelson, explaining that the Central American students are still in school and many of the U.S. engineers are working at internships.

Still, they are familiar with one another because both Central American universities visited the Springfield campus last year to help organize the effort. In all, the team is made up of 40 students, with 16 students from Western New England University, 12 students from Panama, and 12 students from Honduras.

The group is planning to stay on track with construction deadlines and is optimistic it can overcome a “rough learning curve.” Although there have been frustrations, says Lane, in the end, “We take pride in this, which pushes us ahead.”

The team hopes EASI House will return to the Western New England University campus and inspire future decathletes.

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

Cal Poly’s INhouse Opens to the Outdoors of Coastal California

June 8, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

INhouse, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project from the California Polytechnic State University team, is designed to respond to the university’s spectacular surroundings in San Luis Obispo near the Pacific Ocean.

“We focused on creating a coastal home that is true to that climate and the very unique indoor-outdoor living that we have here year-round,” says decathlete Lisa-Marie Mueller.

As such, the architecture is open. A 15-ft glass wall in the living room folds back accordion-style to double the living space.

The design also employs a variety of techniques to boost INhouse’s sustainability. For example, the team installed a gutter system that conveys rainwater to constructed wetlands to help native plants, and the house employs passive ventilation and natural lighting strategies.

Computer-generated illustration of a solar-powered house.

INhouse is designed for indoor-outdoor living in coastal California. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 California Polytechnic State University team)

INhouse also boasts several high-tech attributes. The team is using a palm oil-based phase-change material in the ductwork to cut down on HVAC needs. As the material changes between liquid and solid, it stores or releases significant energy. Just 1 in.3 of palm oil material can hold as much energy as 1 ft3 of concrete.

“It allows us to store a lot more energy in a lot smaller space,” says decathlete Alyssa Parr.

At night, the team can pump cool air to chill the phase-change material, and then, during the day, it can reverse the flow, venting collected heat outside.

In addition, the outdoor deck is covered by bifacial solar photovoltaic (PV) panels—with PV on the top and bottom. The array serves as an awning that provides shade but also lets about 25% of light through. The bottom PV collects reflected light bouncing up from the deck, thereby capturing up to 30% more energy than a single layer of PV. The 14 panels (each 6.43 ft by 3.25 ft) not only create a 4.9-kW renewable power system but also form a structure that looks attractive.

“Solar panels don’t just have to be on roofs. They can be integrated into the design,” Parr says.

Photo of a group of people.

Members of the California Polytechnic State University team gather at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

A second array is part of the core of the house.

The 100-member Cal Poly team, representing 12 majors, took its school’s motto of “learn by doing” seriously during the project. The name and story of the house developed over time.

Says Mueller, “We are now beginning construction and still developing and understanding the meaning of our home and how it relates in the context of the world around us.”

Mueller explains that the name INhouse describes the process the team has been going through—the design, engineering, and construction is really “in house” at Cal Poly. Also, three words—”interactive,” “intuitive,” and “integrated”—describe the technological-meets-natural features of the house. Mostly, it’s learning by doing—a process of iteration and trying many things before reaching a final conclusion.

The group is looking forward to sharing its results with visitors.

“Our house will feel big,” says Parr. “INhouse goes to show that in order to live sustainably, there are couple of key things you need, but you don’t have to make comfort sacrifices or completely change your lifestyle.”

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

Volunteer for Solar Decathlon 2015!

May 26, 2015

By Carol Laurie

One of the best ways to experience the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is by volunteering. Volunteers work alongside event organizers to ensure Solar Decathlon 2015 runs smoothly and visitors have an exceptional experience.

“The Solar Decathlon would not be possible without the contributions of hundreds of volunteers,” says Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon. “They help host, guide, and inspire tens of thousands of visitors during the 8-day public exhibit.”

Photo of a woman wearing a volunteer t-shirt.

Solar Decathlon volunteers help in a variety of roles and are critical to ensuring the event’s success. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

With the launch of online volunteer registration, Mary-Lyn Chambers, volunteer manager, is now welcoming volunteers for Solar Decathlon 2015.

The following volunteer positions are available:

Photo of three women working at folding tables in a large outdoor tent.

Mary-Lyn Chambers, center, is the Solar Decathlon 2015 volunteer manager. She has served in this role since 2007 and managed 1,200 volunteers during Solar Decathlon 2013. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

In addition to contributing to the event’s success, Solar Decathlon volunteers will receive a souvenir t-shirt and hat.

“As a volunteer, you will be so inspired by the decathletes and their competition houses, you won’t want your shift to end,” Chambers says.

Learn more about volunteering and register today!

Volunteers by the Numbers

  • At Solar Decathlon 2013, 1,200 volunteers donated 7,700 hours over 1,300 shifts.
  • As many as 200 volunteers work each public exhibit day in the Solar Decathlon village.
  • Volunteer docents provide guided tours of the village, describing the highlights of each house.
  • About half of volunteers come from our sponsor partner companies.
  • A one-hour online training session and additional reference materials are provided to all volunteers.

Carol Laurie is the communications manager for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Crowder College and Drury University Aim To Withstand Tornadoes With ShelteR3

May 12, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

Tornadoes are common in Missouri. But the twister that hit Joplin, Missouri, on May 22, 2011, provided special motivation for the Crowder College and Drury University team’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project. That monster storm, packing winds greater than 200 mph, killed 161 people and caused billions of dollars in damage near Crowder College’s campus, which is only 80 miles from Drury University in Springfield, Missouri. Although tornadoes are common, natives don’t take their destructive power lightly.

“Part of what engaged so many students at our schools is the fact that we are attacking a real-world problem that has directly affected the families of some of us involved. That acts as a real motivator,” says decathlete Evan Melgren, a Springfield native who graduated from Drury in December.

Photo of a group of smiling people.

Members of the Crowder College and Drury University team gather at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“We wanted to reflect the design imperative we learned about in the wake of the Joplin tornado,” says Melgren.

The team seeks “to lessen the damage next time”—a certainty in a state that averages 27 tornadoes yearly.

Early on, an advisor who had been part of the Joplin recovery effort explained an approach of a trio of actions: response, recovery, and resistance to future storms. Says Melgren, “We latched on to those three ‘R words,’ and came up with ShelteR3,” which is pronounced “shelter cubed.”

The team tested various materials and researched the effects of high winds on structures.

“We are all students working through these issues for the first time,” says Melgren. “But that’s what this opportunity affords students to do. We are confident that the house can withstand some pretty nasty blows.”

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house.

ShelteR3, the project from Crowder College and Drury University, is designed to resist a storm like the tornado that struck Joplin, Missouri, in 2011. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Crowder College and Drury University team)

A key to the team’s approach is layers of resistance—starting with an aluminum and composite fence, the first layer of defense against storm shrapnel. The exterior of the house itself is made of a fiber cement cladding, and underneath that is a sheet of polycarbonate along with a strong frame made of thicker materials than normal. Steel rods, hidden in the walls, attach the floor more securely to the ceiling to further strengthen the structure against wind pressure. The team added storm doors and windows with coverings to resist a storm’s fury. Parapets on the roof protect the solar panels, lessening the chances of them blowing away.

The project is not only intended to resist a storm. The team also believes this type of house could aid storm recovery efforts. Emergency crews could quickly bring one in to provide resilient off-grid shelter with minimal assembly—something lacking in devastated Joplin.

Crowder, which competed in Solar Decathlon 2002 and 2005, boasts strong construction management and solar engineering programs.

“They reached out to us [Drury] to help with architectural design and communication,” Melgren says, and now the two institutions have about 40 active decathletes.

Melgren says a spring build session was not only fun but also “a real team-bonding experience, kneeling shoulder-to-shoulder with teammates hammering nails.”

After the Solar Decathlon, the team expects that ShelteR3 will return to the Drury campus for about a year and then go to the Crowder campus to join the two previous Solar Decathlon houses. And although nobody can say for certain how the structure would fare against a massive tornado like the one that struck Joplin, Melgren says, “Our improvements to the design of the house are definitely major steps in the right direction.”

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.