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

Posts Tagged ‘Solar Decathlon 2013’

Technology Spotlight: Heat Pumps

Tuesday, 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

Thursday, 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.

DesertSol Makes Senator Reid Feel at Home

Thursday, September 4, 2014

By Carol Laurie

On Aug. 28, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid visited DesertSol—the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) house that won second place overall in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. Now located permanently at the Springs Preserve in central Las Vegas, Nevada, DesertSol has been one of the Preserve’s most popular attractions since it opened to the public in March 2014.

Senator Reid joined former UNLV decathletes for a tour of the house led by Alexia Chen. After the tour, the senator talked on the front patio with Solar Decathlon alumni about sustainability and what they have been doing since the competition.

Photo of a group of smiling people.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joins former UNLV decathletes for a tour of DesertSol, the house that won second place overall in Solar Decathlon 2013. Included here are Solar Decathlon Director Richard King (second from left), Alexia Chen (fourth from left), and Senator Reid (center). (Credit: FFW Public Relations and Government Affairs)

“Everyone had a good time at this event—especially the decathletes, who were still marveling at the house they built and how it continues to teach the public. Several of the former UNLV students raved to me about what a beneficial learning experience the Solar Decathlon was for them,” said Richard King, Solar Decathlon director. “The senator’s visit was a proud moment for the students, the university, and the Springs Preserve.”

DesertSol is now a permanent exhibit in the Springs Preserve Botanical Gardens, where visitors can tour the house and learn more about its features. The University of Nevada Las Vegas designed the house to reflect the spirit of the Mojave Desert. With reverence to the sun as both a source of harsh conditions and a solution for sustainable living, DesertSol harnesses abundant sunlight for solar electricity while capturing rain to provide evaporative cooling and irrigation.

Photo of a modern house with people and cactus in front.

DesertSol is one of the most popular attractions at the Springs Preserve, a cultural site in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo courtesy Springs Preserve)

The Springs Preserve, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, is a 180-acre cultural institution designed to commemorate Las Vegas’ dynamic history and provide a vision for a sustainable future. The Springs Preserve features museums, galleries, outdoor events, colorful botanical gardens that include DesertSol, and an interpretive trail system through a scenic wetland habitat. Pardee Homes, one of the sponsors of DesertSol, helped the team prepare the site and rebuild the house at its permanent Springs Preserve location.

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

 

 

 

Technology Spotlight: Energy-Recovery Ventilation Systems

Monday, August 18, 2014

By Alexis Powers and Carol Laurie

Editor’s Note: This post is one of a series of technology spotlights that introduces common technologies used in U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon team houses.

Good ventilation is vital for maintaining healthy indoor air quality. Houses built to modern energy efficiency standards, such as U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition houses, are tightly constructed to allow very little outside air to leak in. As a result, odors, chemicals, particles, and humidity can become trapped, increasing indoor air pollution.

Energy-recovery ventilation systems provide tightly constructed houses with fresh air while minimizing energy loss. These systems rely on heat exchangers to efficiently transfer heat between indoor and outdoor air supplies. There are two types of energy-recovery ventilation systems: heat-recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy-recovery (or enthalpy-recovery) ventilators (ERVs). An HRV uses fans to pull fresh air into a house while simultaneously exhausting stale air. In the winter, the heat exchanger transfers heat energy from the warmer outgoing air to the cooler incoming air to reduce the need for heating. In the summer, the system reduces the need to cool incoming fresh air by sending the cooler exhaust air past the warm intake stream. An ERV goes one step further by controlling indoor humidity as well as temperature. An ERV transfers water vapor along with heat energy to keep the interior humidity constant.

These ventilation systems can recover 70%–80% of the energy from a house’s outgoing air supply to help maintain a comfortable indoor environment.

Photo of a box-shaped energy recovery ventilator inside a mechanical closet.

Team Ontario used this energy recovery ventilator in its “ECHO” house. Energy recovery ventilation systems help maintain a comfortable indoor environment by recovering 70%–80% of the energy from the outgoing air supply. Credit: Carol Laurie, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Several Solar Decathlon 2013 teams incorporated energy recovery ventilation technologies into their competition houses. Norwich University provided continuous ventilation of its “Delta T-90” house by using a multiunit HRV system that was 92% efficient, ductless, and whisper-quiet. Team Ontario (Queen’s University, Carleton University, and Algonquin College), which received first place in the Solar Decathlon 2013 Engineering Contest, used an ERV in its “ECHO” house to dramatically reduce the energy needed to condition indoor air.

Photo of the exterior of a modern house.

Norwich University used a multiunit HRV system that provided continuous ventilation in its Solar Decathlon 2013 “Delta T-90” house. Credit: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Visit the Energy Savers website to learn more about energy-efficient ventilation systems.

Alexis Powers and Carol Laurie are members of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

 

 

Solar Decathlon Takes First Place in Government Communicators Competition

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By Carol Laurie

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 won first place in the special events category in the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC) Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards Competition. The award was announced last week during a reception and banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Wrote competition judge Cheryl V. Chambers of the U.S. Census Bureau: “This entry was flawless—a well-executed and interesting event, and a top-notch overall entry. Very comprehensive and impressive. Congratulations on the coverage, participation, and great metrics.”

Solar Decathlon 2013 gained the attention of millions through worldwide media coverage and attracted 64,000 visitors, who toured the solar-powered houses and learned about their energy-saving features.

Aerial photo of crowds of people visiting solar-powered houses that line both sides of a village street on a sunny day.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 attracted 64,000 visitors and gained the attention of millions through worldwide media coverage. The 2015 event will be held at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, Oct. 8–18. (Credit: Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

The NAGC Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards Competition, held in conjunction with the NAGC 2014 Communications School, salutes superior communications efforts of government agencies.

This joins a growing list of awards the Solar Decathlon has received over the past several years. These include:

  • 2013 OC Metro magazine’s Green Team Award
  • Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, 2012 Bright Ideas in Government Award
  • Public Relations Society of America, 2012 Silver Anvil Award, Government Events, More Than Seven Days category
  • PR Daily’s Digital & Social Media 2012 Award for Best Government Social Media program
  • National Building Museum 2010 Honor Award.

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