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

Posts Tagged ‘Solar Decathlon’

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.




Solar Decathlon Leads to Patent-Pending Technology, Design Career for OSU Alumnus

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

By Carol Laurie

Matthew O’Kelly lives the benefits of his U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon experience.

O’Kelly participated twice in the Solar Decathlon—first as the HVAC engineer for The Ohio State University (OSU) 2009 team and then as the project engineer for the OSU 2011 team. Since then, O’Kelly has not only established a successful design career but also been instrumental in developing a patent-pending technology that began with the OSU 2011 competition house.

After graduating from OSU with his master’s degree in 2012, O’Kelly secured a job with Priority Designs, an industrial design firm based in Columbus, Ohio. He says that his Solar Decathlon experience was a major reason he got the job.

Photo of a group of people standing outdoors beside a tent and in front of a machine.

The 2012 energyhawc capstone team included (back row, from left) Matthew O’Kelly, Dr. Mark Walter, Marcy Kaercher, Brendan O’Shaughnessy, James Rowland, and Chris Schleich, (front row, from left) Scott Heckler, Sarah Weals, Lee Trask, and Fandi Peng. Photo courtesy of Matthew O’Kelly.

“The 2011 competition was the defining experience of my academic career at OSU, and it was essential in helping me transition from a student to a professional engineer. The Solar Decathlon provided me with a great opportunity to work on an engineering project of significant scale with an amazing and diverse team,” O’Kelly says. “The competition had a condensed timeline, fundraising, blue-sky research and development, hardcore engineering, hands-on fabrication, marketing, and integration between design and engineering. Describing the amount of work, perseverance, and coordination that went into building and designing our house went a long way in convincing Priority Designs and others who interviewed me of my teamwork and engineering skills.”

Since the 2011 competition, O’Kelly has continued working with Dr. Mark Walter, OSU associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and the faculty lead for both the 2009 and 2011 OSU Solar Decathlon teams. Together, they developed the patent-pending “energyhawc” whole-house conditioning system and have run three capstone courses for OSU seniors in Mechanical Engineering. O’Kelly credits Walter and the Solar Decathlon experience as pivotal in “adding depth, social responsibility, and mentorship to my engineering education.”

O’Kelly explains that energyhawc (“hawc” stands for “hybrid air water conditioner”) integrates air conditioning, heating, water heating, ventilation, and de-humidification in one appliance and is up to 50% more energy-efficient than other whole-house conditioning systems. At 33 in. wide by 44 in. long by 60 in. tall (including the water tank), energyhawc is about the same size as a traditional central air-conditioning unit.

Walter and O’Kelly created energyhawc as a modularized, more efficient implementation of the separate sensible and latent cooling concepts they experimented with in their 2011 competition house.

“The ideas for energyhawc came directly from the HVAC system that we developed for our 2011 Solar Decathlon house,” explains Walter. “If we had not built the house, we would not have recognized the need for and then developed the energyhawc technology.”

Recently, O’Kelly and Walter won a $100,000 Ohio Third Frontier Startup Validation Fund grant to continue commercializing energyhawc. They have also brought on board James Rowland, a former capstone team member and current OSU master’s student. In June 2014, the OSU Technology and Commercialization Office submitted a utility patent application. O’Kelly, Walter, and Rowland are now working on a third prototype.

Photo of a young man standing in front of an old stone building.

Solar Decathlon alumnus Matthew O’Kelly stands on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. O’Kelly is part of a team that has developed a patent-pending technology that began with the Solar Decathlon 2011 OSU house. Photo courtesy of Matthew O’Kelly.

“First and foremost, the Solar Decathlon is working to provide the novel solutions we will need to solve one of the greatest challenges of our generation: the energy crisis,” O’Kelly says. “The side effect of having students work on this problem is that we will have a new generation of engineering, architecture, and business people who are prepared to lead responsible and sustainable projects throughout the world.”

Although O’Kelly will continue to work with Walter and Rowland on energyhawc, he’s about to begin the next step in his professional career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will be a doctoral student in electrical and systems engineering. He intends to shift his focus from product design back to research on embedded systems and controls, but he still plans to keep energy, infrastructure, and sustainability at the forefront of his career.

“The students, organizers, and supporters I worked with through the Solar Decathlon have sharpened my resolve to create more sustainable products, buildings, and infrastructure through both social and technological change,” he says. “I believe that I am not alone in these goals and that events like the Solar Decathlon are very important in training the next generation of engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs who will lead this charge.”

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


Solar Decathlon Sponsors Share the Spotlight

Monday, August 25, 2014

By Carol Laurie

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon captures the attention of millions of people worldwide. As partners of the event, Solar Decathlon sponsors share this spotlight and gain outstanding exposure—onsite, online, in print, and over the air.

In 2013 alone, the Solar Decathlon achieved the following worldwide media coverage:

  • Total media impressions:  2 billion+
  • Total media stories: 2,400+
  • Online articles: 1,750+
  • Print articles: 350+ in 150 publications
  • Broadcast: 200+ television stories and 150+ radio interviews
  • Media attendance: 225 media onsite.

The Solar Decathlon also has impressive digital reach, with social media driving traffic to the website, where sponsors are recognized.

  • Solar Decathlon 2013 website: 3.2 million page views and 500,000 visitors
  • Facebook: 15,500+ fans
  • Twitter: More than 13,000 followers
  • YouTube: 1,200+ subscribers and 1 million+ video views
  • Flickr: 2.8 million overall image views
  • Instagram: 950 tagged photos by public.
Photo of a group of cheering people and a ribbon falling away after being cut by a woman holding a pair of giant scissors.

Solar Decathlon sponsors receive exposure to thousands of visitors and volunteers throughout the Solar Decathlon village. Top-level sponsors also have the opportunity to play an active role in ceremonies, such as this ribbon cutting, which opened Solar Decathlon 2013. Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

In addition, thousands of people visit the event in person to tour the competition houses. During the eight-day public exhibit in 2013:

  • 64,000 visitors took more than 300,000 house tours
  • More than 3,000 middle-school and high-school students and teachers attended Education Days
  • 1,200 volunteers donated 7,700 hours.

Throughout the Solar Decathlon village—on signage, in the Visitors Guide, and even on volunteer T-shirts—event sponsors receive exposure to thousands of visitors and volunteers. Depending on the level of sponsorship, sponsors can even receive outdoor exhibit space, speaking roles in ceremonies, co-branding opportunities, and more.

Increased exposure is just one of many ways Solar Decathlon sponsors benefit from partnering with this award-winning competition. Learn more by visiting our Sponsor page.

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.




What Makes a House a Home?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

By Carol Laurie

A house is just a building until people live in it. Then it becomes a home.

Although U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon houses are not lived in during competition, Solar Decathlon visitors may ask themselves whether they could be comfortable homes when stepping through their thresholds.

Could I live here?

From a competition standpoint, this question is answered through the Home Life Contest, which measures how well each house accommodates comfortable living—including aspects such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching movies, and using a computer. The Home Life Contest also simulates taking a warm shower and spending time in a well-lighted space.

Photo of a man wearing a chef’s hat cooking at a stove, with people sitting at a table in the background.

Decathletes from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas host a meal for student dinner party guests during the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. Dinner parties are part of the Home Life Contest, which helps teams get to know one another while demonstrating how comfortable the competition houses might be to live in. Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

For this contest, teams receive points for:

  • Hosting two dinner parties for neighboring teams
  • Hosting a movie night for neighboring teams
  • Turning on all interior and exterior house lights during specified time periods
  • Operating a television and computer during specified time periods
  • Producing 15 gallons (56.8 L) of hot water (110°F/43.3°C) from the shower in 10 minutes or less several times during the competition.

Teams plan their dinner party menus in advance, and each menu must feature food and beverages prepared in the house. (See the 2013 University of Las Vegas team’s menu for an example.) For the movie night, guests from neighboring teams watch a movie with the host team on its home theater system. Together, the dinner parties and movie night evaluate the functionality of each house while simultaneously providing an opportunity for competing students to get to know one another.

Completing these tasks brings teams together and provides an indication of whether each Solar Decathlon house could be considered a home.

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