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

Solar Decathlon Blog - Solar Decathlon 2015

Below you will find Solar Decathlon news from the Solar Decathlon 2015 archive, sorted by date.

Missouri University of Science and Technology Adds a Solar Nest

Monday, March 2, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

The Missouri University of Science and Technology team is building the latest addition to its campus colony of student-designed, energy-efficient houses. The team is creating a “nest” to compete in Solar Decathlon 2015. After the October competition, the Nest Home—designed for a growing family—will return to the Rolla, Missouri, campus to take its place alongside the school’s 2002, 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2013 Solar Decathlon competition houses as part of a student housing and research site.

“Our team has been around so long, it enables us to see the effects of the projects from the past,” says Mary Puleo, a junior from St. Louis who is the Nest Home project manager.

Years of Solar Decathlon participation have enabled the university’s vision to extend beyond the competition to include a range of renewable energy outreach initiatives within the community. The team holds three to six events each month—hosting Scout troops, offering community and student showcases, and spreading the word about sustainable living.

Photo of a group of smiling students.

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

Puleo says that having a team in so many Solar Decathlons means that “we have a really strong support system.” For example, this year’s team includes several 2013 decathletes who are helping Puleo and about 60 teammates prepare for the 2015 solar showdown in Irvine, California. Students are involved throughout the entire process, from initial proposal through conceptual design and final construction. This experiential learning opportunity allows undergraduates to gain hands-on experience outside the classroom and work closely with both consultants and skilled tradesmen.

The 2015 house is designed to serve a family “from a full nest to an empty nest” and will be built using local recycled materials as much as possible. The core structure consists of three repurposed shipping containers that form a deconstructed triangular space similar to a bird’s nest. Although this open-floor concept is designed to work for a couple and small children in two bedrooms, it also allows the possibility of adding or subtracting recycled containers to modify the living quarters as needed.

Computer-generated illustration of a solar-powered house.

The Nest Home will be constructed of recycled materials, including shipping containers that form a triangular space like a bird’s nest and an exterior clad with used shipping pallets. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Missouri University of Science and Technology team)

The team’s dedicated approach attracted Puleo when she was a freshman in 2012. Over time, her bonds to the undergraduate decathletes have grown along with her duties.

“It’s great to see others finding the passion for this type of project,” she says. Originally working as director of finance, she took over as project manager in August 2014.

Photo of three people taking measurements with surveying equipment on a tripod.

At the Orange County Great Park, Missouri University of Science and Technology team members survey the lot where they will build the Nest Home for Solar Decathlon 2015. (Credit: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“Every day, I’m pushing my boundaries,” says the environmental engineering student. “But this is a tremendous opportunity, something regular students don’t experience—and something I’ll always value because it helps you figure out what you want to do in life.”

Puleo says the Nest Home experience will launch fledgling careers in fields that can impact the future and promote sustainability. She’s proud to be part of a long-standing tradition—and a new beginning. The Nest Home crew joins the rest, she says, in the Solar Decathlon experience, which “empowers us to find ways to keep the world going.”

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

Reach an Inspired Audience—Exhibit at the Innovation Pavilion at Solar Decathlon 2015

Thursday, February 19, 2015

By Carol Laurie

Calling all clean energy companies! You are invited to participate in the Innovation Pavilion at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. A consumer exhibit for clean energy products and services, the 50-booth Innovation Pavilion will be located next to the Solar Decathlon village, where visitors will pass on their way to and from the student-designed competition houses.

Photo of people walking through a large exhibit hall.

The Innovation Pavilion will be adjacent to Solar Decathlon 2015 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. (Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“The Innovation Pavilion offers clean energy companies the opportunity to demonstrate their products and technologies to the thousands of people who will attend the Solar Decathlon,” says Tom Burke, owner and president of Flying Bull Inc., producer of the pavilion. “The Innovation Pavilion will provide a climate-controlled environment for guests to explore and learn what is commercially available today.”

The Innovation Pavilion will educate visitors about the broad spectrum of renewable energy and energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production, and education.

Photo of an electric vehicle plugged into a charging station in front of a large exhibition structure.

The Innovation Pavilion at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 offers exhibitors the opportunity to demonstrate clean energy products and technologies to consumers, homebuilders, municipalities, government agencies, businesses, and more. (Courtesy of Flying Bull Inc.)

The Innovation Pavilion will be open during Solar Decathlon public exhibit days at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily, Oct. 8–11 and Oct. 15–18, 2015.

For more information on purchasing exhibit space for your organization, visit http://innovationpavilion.info/.

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

 

 

Schneider Electric Signs as Four-Time Solar Decathlon Sustaining Sponsor

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

By Carol Laurie

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is pleased to announce that Schneider Electric has signed on as a Solar Decathlon 2015 sustaining sponsor. A sustaining sponsor since 2009, Schneider Electric will provide the engineering design and supplemental equipment for our microgrid—a temporary, two-way power flow electrical system to interconnect the Solar Decathlon village and collegiate team competition houses. The company is also supplying the engineering design, hardware, software, and operation of the electrical microgrid monitoring system, which provides data for contest scoring.

Photo of a man looking at electrical equipment.

A Solar Decathlon 2013 collegiate team member surveys microgrid equipment used to power his team’s competition house. As part of its sponsorship, Schneider Electric has provided the engineering design and equipment for the Solar Decathlon village microgrid since 2009. (Credit: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“Schneider Electric is thrilled to once again partner with the Solar Decathlon and play a key role in helping educate the next generation of energy leaders,” says Jennifer Curtis, director, university partnerships, Schneider Electric. “Our sponsorship helps support the advancement of renewable technologies, raise public awareness of clean energy options, and brand Schneider Electric as the industry leader in energy management. We have also found that our Solar Decathlon sponsorship gives us access to the best and brightest students, who represent a talented recruitment pool for internships and full-time positions with our company.”

Schneider Electric will also provide professional staff to serve as volunteers during the Solar Decathlon 2015 public exhibit, to be held Oct. 8 through 18 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California.

“We are so excited to welcome Schneider Electric back in 2015 as a sustaining-level sponsor,” says Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon. “I’m grateful for their generosity, expertise, and passion for this competition and our educational mission. We literally couldn’t have a grid-connected Solar Decathlon village without them.”

Schneider Electric demonstrates worldwide dedication to the Solar Decathlon. In addition to its support of four U.S. competitions, the company has sponsored Solar Decathlon Europe (in 2010, 2012, and 2014) and Solar Decathlon China (in 2013).

With a focus on making energy safe, reliable, efficient, productive, and green, Schneider Electric ranks ninth in the 2015 Global 100 Most Sustainable Corporations in the World Index.

If your company is interested in joining Schneider Electric in becoming a Solar Decathlon sponsor at any level, please contact Richard King or visit our sponsor page.

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

The Distance From Texas to Germany Shrinks to Net-Zero in NexusHaus

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

The 5,500-mile distance from Austin, Texas, to Munich, Germany, melts away with NexusHaus, a U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project that combines students from the United States and Europe.

Decathletes from the University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen in Germany have drawn upon shared interests—especially the energy-water nexus of sustainable practices—to create an ultra-efficient solar house. The only slight disagreement came over the title of the project.

“That name [NexusHaus—spelled the German way] actually came from the Austin side of the team, but some of the TUM [Technische Universitaet Muenchen] team thought it might sound a little too much like clichéd German,” laughs Charles Upshaw, a University of Texas mechanical engineering doctorate student and team co-captain. “Now that we’ve all agreed on it, we’re feeling pretty good about the name.”

Alt: Photo of a group of people with a giant balloon behind them.

Members of the University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen Solar Decathlon 2015 team enjoy activities at the Orange County Great Park in January. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

It helps that Austin and Munich share cultural bonds. A wave of immigration around Austin gave the region German roots. These days, residents of both Austin and Munich enjoy outdoor beer gardens and relaxing in public spaces.

There are technological parallels as well. Germany’s electric system is rapidly moving away from fossil fuels and toward renewables such as solar energy and wind power, while Texas is a leader in developing wind energy. Both grapple with integrating intermittent renewable power into electricity grids, and both are increasingly aware of the need to conserve resources such as water.

Wolfgang Vidal, a Technische Universitaet Muenchen student, says he became involved in the Solar Decathlon project because he shares a sense of responsibility for the global environment and wants to support “sustainable ways of designing and building and thus contribute to finding solutions for environmental issues.”

Upshaw says the house’s name encompasses what the team is trying to address—a nexus of four interrelated elements: energy, water, population growth, and sustainable food production.

“The idea is to build a house that is water self-sufficient, is net-zero energy, and has thermal storage,” Upshaw says.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house.

NexusHaus is designed to increase the housing density in Austin without increasing the burden on water and electricity. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen team)

Integrating solutions is the challenge, which was part of the learning process.

“We are an interdisciplinary team composed of many different nationalities,” says Technische Universitaet Muenchen’s Kristina Groendahl. “That gives us as a richer team when it comes to work methods, approaches, experiences, discussions, and solutions.”

Not everything goes smoothly at first.

“There are differences in design aesthetics, but those are helping drive our house design to something unique,” Upshaw says. “Otherwise, it wouldn’t be as creative as it is.”

The European preference for clean architectural lines, big windows, and sustainable materials is evident in the 784-ft2 modular urban home.

Eneida Lila, one of the Technische Universitaet Muenchen’s student leaders, explains: “Our design is composed of two equal-sized modules, with a clean division between day and night usage. These two house components come together through a central space, which we also call ‘nexus’ or the breezeway. It is an outdoor-indoor space which we integrate in our architectural and energy concept.”

The compact size is crucial because the team envisions the house as a prototype for “accessory” housing, such as a second house on a residential lot. Within Austin city limits, where the house will likely end up, this type of house could be installed on about 40,000 lots. To address the varied and unique challenges that come with building a new structure on an already developed property, modularity and flexibility are central design themes.

“The point is to increase the housing density in Austin without increasing the burden on water and electricity,” Upshaw says. “This could help with the population boom.”

In Austin, and across Texas, there’s constant pressure from growth.

“Population is projected to increase by 80%, while water supplies will decrease by 10%,” says Upshaw, an Austin native. Upshaw also says that Austin’s reservoirs have only been about a third full for several years because of drought conditions.

To help conserve water, NexusHaus uses its modular multipurpose canopy to collect rainwater and direct it to the under-deck storage system. It is also designed to recycle greywater—defined in Texas as water from showers, bathroom sinks, and washing machines—to support outdoor urban farming. The team will pump greywater for vegetables such as tomatoes and okra, and an aquaponic system will support fish such as tilapia and water plants in a symbiotic system.

“There’s a strong urban farming movement in Austin, and this would be part of that,” Upshaw says.

Technische Universitaet Muenchen students will head to Austin this spring to help with construction. The group will benefit from advice from University of Texas at Austin veteran decathletes. The school has participated in three previous U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlons—including the inaugural event in 2002.

“We’ll try to leverage as much knowledge as possible,” Upshaw says.

As the team gets down to the serious work of building NexusHaus, the Europeans and Americans will probably also find time to relax in Austin, aware that two cultures—so many miles apart—can come together in a single place, in a single project, as one group and, as Vidal says, “can laugh about everything.”

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

 

 

University at Buffalo, The State University of New York GRoWs a Solar House

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

Upstate Buffalo, New York, isn’t typically associated with gardens. More people probably envision Buffalo covered in the lake-effect snow of frigid Lake Erie than in greenery.

But the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 University at Buffalo, The State University of New York team may change that. Its Garden, Relax, or Work (GRoW) Home includes the GRoWlarium, a built-in 338-ft2 greenhouse.

“We have a long and cold winter, but surprisingly, there’s a lot of outdoor, urban gardening in Buffalo. People say having the cold makes an even more lush growing season in the summer,” says Amanda Mumford, a member of the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York Solar Decathlon team.

Photo of a group of young men.]

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

While discussing a “solarium” during the project design phase, the team coined the GRoWlarium term to capture its concept and reflect its city.

“Around the school, community gardens are springing up on vacant lots,” Mumford says.

This movement inspired the team.

“We really wanted to embrace complete sustainability and the idea that people can grow their own food at home,” says Mumford.

The team, whose approximately 30 members range from freshmen to doctoral candidates, believes that users of a GRoW-style house can avoid high costs for farming and shipping produce. And there’s more. The holistic vision allows for flexibility in use.

“It’s really a dynamic living space as well,” says Mumford, an environmental design major from Long Island, New York.

Adapting to seasonal changes, a resident can open up the GRoWlarium or seal it off from the rest of the house while still allowing for year-round harvests. Also, the greenhouse “lets light in the house and can be tailored throughout the seasons. In summer, you can put your plants outside, too,” Mumford says.

The concept works in concert with the rest of GRoW Home, which consists of a 770-ft2 fully enclosed living space that is heated and air-conditioned. The dwelling space is enclosed in a thick thermal shell and has two units: a bedroom with a central living space and a kitchen with potential for canning and storing home-grown produce.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house surrounded by garden planters.

The University at Buffalo, The State University of New York’s Garden, Relax, or Work (GRoW) Home includes the GRoWlarium, a built-in 338-ft2 greenhouse. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 University at Buffalo, The State University of New York team)

The team plans to continue planting seeds about renewable energy and sustainability after the competition. It thinks GRoW Home will end up taking root on the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York campus, next to the architectural school where it was born, to serve as a research tool for the community and a location for seminars on community gardens and energy efficiency.

“We’re really excited to see it built,” Mumford says.

Ultimately, the team hopes GRoW Home will put Buffalo back on the map as an “innovator and model for sustainability” and a place known for its verdant green, not icy white.

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