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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 Director Encourages Individual Action in TEDxOrangeCoast Talk

October 29, 2014

By Carol Laurie

You can make a difference. That was the message of Solar Decathlon Director Richard King in his Sept. 19 TEDxOrangeCoast talk about the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Titled “Energy To Live By,” King’s 11-minute talk at the TEDxOrangeCoast Annual Conference in Aliso Viejo, California, introduced the audience to the Solar Decathlon and the powerful impact this award-winning competition has on participating students and visitors.

Throughout his talk, King stressed how important each individual is to reducing the world’s energy use.

“As individuals, we are responsible for 100% of the energy we use in our daily lives. Did it ever occur to you that, as individuals collectively responsible for half of the world’s energy, you have a lot of power?” he says. “I’m not talking about energy or brain power. I am talking about the kind of power that can change the world. Think about that the next time you flip a switch.”

Photo of a man wearing a Solar Decathlon baseball cap.

Solar Decathlon Director Richard King spoke about the benefits of the Solar Decathlon and the power of individuals in reducing world energy use at the TEDxOrangeCoast Annual Conference in September. (Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Representatives from the City of Irvine, California, nominated King for consideration by the TEDxOrangeCoast organizers.

“Being invited to give a TED talk is very special, and I was honored by the City of Irvine’s nomination,” King says. “It’s also a very exhilarating experience. All of the speakers during this conference were outstanding, having done something significant in their lives.”

King also invited the audience to visit Solar Decathlon 2015, which will be held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, Oct. 8 through 18.

See King’s talk to learn more.  And if you like it, pass it on!

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

Technology Spotlight: Heat Pumps

October 28, 2014

By Irene Ying

Temperature control, whether heating water for a bath in winter or cooling a bedroom on a blazing summer day, is essential to a comfortable home.

Heating and cooling eat up 48% of an average home’s energy bill, but you can have it all—comfort and efficiency—with heat pump systems. In contrast to conventional temperature control, which is achieved by generating heat or cold, these technologies “transfer” heat, which is far more efficient than creating it. In fact, a modern heat pump uses about 50% less electricity than a furnace or baseboard heater. In moderate climates, heat pumps can provide up to three times the energy they consume. As a bonus, in warm weather, heat pumps can do double-duty as air conditioners by moving hot air outside instead of in.

Three types of heat pumps, differentiated by heat source, are currently available: air, water, and geothermal.

Photo of a heat pump system.

A team member from the Santa Clara University Solar Decathlon 2013 team discusses the heat pump system in the team’s Radiant House. This system used hot water to heat the house and cold water to cool it. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Air-based systems generally use fans to extract heat from ambient air outside the house and then transfer the heat indoors. Air-based systems can also run in reverse, transferring indoor heat outdoors to cool the interior. Such systems are the easiest and most economical to install. However, because they rely on outside air temperature, air-source heat pumps are less efficient in climates in which temperatures dip below freezing.

Geothermal systems, which use the heat in the Earth’s crust, can reduce the energy cost of household heating by up to 60%. These systems use long loops of tubing buried in the ground to extract heat from the ground. Because the ground is warmer than air in winter, geothermal systems work more efficiently at lower temperatures than air-source systems. Likewise, the ground is cooler than the air in summer, so geothermal systems are also more efficient air-conditioning devices in hot climates. They are, however, more expensive than air-source installations.

Water-source systems transfer heat throughout a building using closed loops of water. These systems are able to simultaneously move hot and cold water to different parts of a building, depending on the needs. Thus, some parts of a building can be heated while others are cooled. For instance, the unwanted heat of a cold storage room could be used to heat a tank of hot water for washing. In addition, if the water heater is located in the basement, it can extract moisture from the air and act as a dehumidifier in wet summer months. This option can reduce water heating costs by up to 50%. However, this technology can require more extensive work to install.

Air isn’t the only thing that can be efficiently heated by heat exchange; water can also be heated using a heat pump water heater. Similar to the water-source heat pump, heat pump water heater systems work by drawing heat from the surroundings—for example, outdoor air in the summer and the warm ground in the winter—but use the energy to heat water instead of air. Compared to conventional water heaters, heat pump water heaters are up to three times more energy-efficient.

Many U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon teams have used heat pumps to achieve energy-efficient competition houses. In 2013, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte used a pump system with both heating and cooling capabilities, plus a system of capillary cubes circulating water, to achieve cooling without using compressors or refrigerants in the UrbanEden house. The University of Nevada Las Vegas team likewise used pump systems for heating and cooling its DesertSol, which was designed for the extreme conditions of desert living. Radiant House, from Santa Clara University, created a uniform living environment using a water-based heat pump system.

As the Solar Decathlon continues to demonstrate, amenities such as hot showers and air conditioning need not be sacrificed when constructing or living in an energy-efficient home.

Learn more about the benefits of the various types of heat pumps at the Energy Savers website.

Irene Ying is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

Solar Decathlon Alum Goes From Coordinating One Efficient Building to Many

October 23, 2014

By Irene Ying

As a project coordinator for building management software company Lucid Design Group, Cordelia Newbury works with customers to reduce their energy use. And although she now coordinates the energy efficiency of tens of buildings at a time, her career in energy-efficient spaces began with one-house projects—on Middlebury College’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 and Solar Decathlon 2013 teams.

“After working on the construction of the Self-Reliance house for Solar Decathlon 2011, I became more curious about architecture and building efficiency movements and was hooked,” Newbury explains. “So I incorporated building efficiency into my academic work and continued on with Solar Decathlon 2013.”

Newbury served as team manager of Middlebury’s InSite house for Solar Decathlon 2013. She describes her role as “acting as a central resource for the team to connect students with each other and with external resources such as contractors to keep us on track.” This meant that she did a little bit of everything: from buying groceries and acting as travel agent for 70 team members to performing late-night construction, hosting fundraising meetings, and coordinating design teams.

Photo of a group of smiling people wearing hard hats.

Cordelia Newbury, second from left, shares a light moment with Middlebury College Solar Decathlon 2013 teammates (from left) Ari Lattanzi, Marcel Rodgers, and Jack Kerby-Miller. Newbury credits her Solar Decathlon experience with helping her become an energy-efficiency project coordinator for a building management software company. (Photo courtesy of Cordelia Newbury.)

Newbury didn’t just learn skills by working on the Solar Decathlon team; she also gained professional connections through her experience. During the two-year Solar Decathlon 2013 project, the team had extensive contact with administrative departments at Middlebury as well as local professionals who consulted on InSite. To Newbury and her team, these contacts were more than donors and extra pairs of hands. They also became mentors, friends, and eventually a professional network.

“The amount of responsibility that we had on Solar Decathlon is not often available through internships, and having administrators and contractors get to know me and my teammates created strong relationships that guided me to my job with Lucid,” she says.

Photo of a young woman.

Cordelia Newbury, who served as Middlebury College’s Solar Decathlon 2013 team manager, says the Solar Decathlon provides visitors an opportunity to interact with environmentally responsive architecture and think about how they can contribute to more sustainable spaces and lifestyles. (Photo courtesy of Cordelia Newbury.)

But most important of all, Newbury says, she found a new way of thinking about sustainable spaces and lifestyles, which drives her career today. The Solar Decathlon, she says, taught her that it’s possible to create attractive spaces that integrate sustainable building into everyday life without sacrificing comfort or beauty.

“The Solar Decathlon is on the one hand a platform to exhibit energy-efficient houses, but it is also an opportunity to spread powerful ideas to architects, builders, engineers, students, adults, or anyone who sees themselves occupying a constructed space,” she says. “I don’t think that anyone could leave Decathlete Way without remembering at least one idea that he or she could use to work toward a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Irene Ying is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

Department of Energy Seeks Public Sector Input for Future Solar Decathlon Planning

October 17, 2014

By Solar Decathlon

The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a request for information (RFI) seeking input to help inform the design, planning, and implementation of the next generation of the Solar Decathlon—in 2017 and beyond.

The purpose of this RFI is to solicit feedback from past and present participants in the Solar Decathlon, broader academic circles, industry, sponsors, and other stakeholders on issues related to future Solar Decathlon competitions. The objective is to improve the outcomes aligned with the Solar Decathlon in the long term. DOE is specifically interested in feedback about additional U.S. benefits that should be the focus of future solar-powered home programs funded by DOE, the format of a competition to achieve those benefits, and whether other formats or options can deliver higher value to the U.S. In the format discussion, if the current format is proposed to continue, information is requested on how DOE should identify future locations for the Solar Decathlon.

DOE seeks a variety of different types of information to help inform its decision regarding how future Solar Decathlon competitions will be organized. To this end, DOE seeks detailed information regarding the following aspects related to the Solar Decathlon competitions:

  • Question 1
    How could the goals of the Solar Decathlon evolve to create a larger impact on the market needs of the following industry sectors?
    1. Buildings
    2. Solar
    3. Utility
    4. Transportation
    5. Education
  • Question 2
    What additional outcomes of the Solar Decathlon could increase the scale of that impact, and improve its cost effectiveness for the U.S.?
  • Question 3
    What is the appropriate role for DOE with respect to delivering on this potential impact?
  • Question 4
    What changes could be made to the Solar Decathlon rules, format, location, and logistics to achieve those outcomes?
  • Question 5
    How could the public and private roles and funding sources be developed to achieve those outcomes?
  • Question 6
    What should the Solar Decathlon look like in 10 years?

Instructions for how to respond to the RFI can be found in the eXchange system at https://eere-exchange.energy.gov/Default.aspx#FoaIddb4c51f6-e566-4791-9b26-c7dd4873870a. Responses are due Nov. 24, 2014.

Solar Decathlon Organizers Adjust 2015 Competition Lineup

September 30, 2014

By Amy Vaughn

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Director Richard King today announced that Stanford University has withdrawn from the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition.

In Stanford University’s notification letter, the school administration said: “The team and the university remain enthusiastically committed to the program’s goals. Faculty and students will continue to take part in a wide array of research, teaching, and outreach activities to advance alternative energy technologies and systems.”

Stanford University previously competed in Solar Decathlon 2013, where it placed fifth overall with its Start.Home entry.

“Stanford was a strong competitor in our last competition,” said King. “While we’re disappointed we won’t see its students compete in 2015, we know the school and students will continue our tradition of educating others about the opportunities presented by renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

The updated Solar Decathlon 2015 team lineup includes:

  • California Polytechnic State University
  • California State University, Sacramento
  • Clemson University
  • Crowder College and Drury University
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • New York City College of Technology
  • State University of New York at Alfred College of Technology and Alfred University
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • University of Florida, National University of Singapore, and Santa Fe College
  • The University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen
  • University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Irvine; Saddleback College; Chapman University; and Irvine Valley College
  • Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University
  • West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata
  • Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana
  • Yale University.

Amy Vaughn is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.