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

Posts Tagged ‘Solar Decathlon’

University of California, Davis, Readies Aggie Sol for Farmworkers

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

The University of California, Davis, has strong pedigrees in both sustainable projects and agricultural research.  So even though Solar Decathlon 2015 is the first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon for the school, its Aggie Sol house already has a legacy to draw upon. Its sports teams are dubbed the Aggies for the school’s agricultural and sustainable bent, and its Solar Decathlon 2015 project reflects that mission.

“Sol means the motivation, innovation, and pride that come with being a UC Davis student,” says Robert Good, a civil engineering graduate who is now the team’s project manager.

That pride stems, in part, from the early 1970s, when the school built a series of residential structures called the Domes, which focused on alternative lifestyles and sustainability. In the past six years, there have been several additional initiatives to create sustainable housing, including the West Village on campus, said to be the largest planned net-zero energy community in the United States. In a symbolic gesture, Aggie Sol is being assembled across from the Domes on campus.

“We’re dedicating the design to the needs of farmworkers or agricultural workers,” Good says. “The engineering, the architecture, and the entire focus of our team are dedicated to achieving this goal while achieving an affordable price point.”

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house.

The University of California, Davis, Aggie Sol house includes a mud room for farmworkers to clean up in when they come home from outdoor field work. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 University of California, Davis, team)

The team is aiming for below-market-rate costs for its design, a concept that could make it more easily affordable to people who might have a critical need for such housing.

“We are making it affordable for the masses and workers,” Good says. “We saw the 2015 competition as an opportunity to approach that problem.”

Just under 1,000 ft 2, the wooden structure uses thick straw-bale walls that have a high R-value. To reduce both cost and energy consumption, the plumbing system will rely on gravity instead of pumps for water distribution to the fixtures.

The house is split into a double-wide modular layout, which the team believes will make it easy to fabricate, ship, and erect onsite. After the Solar Decathlon, it can be set up on a farm site.  Half of the space is in the style of a common “great family room,” combining a kitchen, dining room, and family room in one space for large group gatherings.

The other side is unique, Good believes. Along with private space that includes two bedrooms will be a mud room for workers to quickly clean up when they come home from outdoor field work. This includes a deck space, locker to store work clothes and muddy boots, laundry, and shower. Another locker holding clean clothes will enable the Aggie Sol resident to change and enter the house refreshed and dirt-free—a boon for those in farming occupations.

Aggie Sol is a university-wide project. So far, more than 300 students—from virtually all majors across the university, from engineering to English—have participated.

To overcome early organizational issues, they transformed the team setup to make it less formal.

“It was more fun to open up the discussions to anyone to participate. People could be less sensitive to the design critiques, which allowed us to sand the corners of our design down to something that really does work and effectively meets the project needs,” Good says.

The final location of the Aggie Sol house is still undecided. Local farm owners in the area have expressed interest, as have agricultural researchers, Good says.

Reaction has been strongly positive.  From the administration through the student body, “This has really made an impact on the university,” Good says.

He thinks Aggie Sol work will take root in the school curriculum, across the state, and beyond.

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


United States, China Agree to Second Solar Decathlon China

Monday, July 20, 2015

By Carol Laurie

The U.S. Department of Energy, the National Energy Administration of the People’s Republic of China, and China Overseas Development Association have finalized a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on the second edition of Solar Decathlon China. 

According to the memorandum, the competition “… is an opportunity for universities and colleges, technology developers, equipment manufacturers, and local and national Chinese government entities working together with United States industry leaders to demonstrate commercially available green building technologies and designs.” 

Planned for 2016 or 2017, the exact dates and location of the international event are to be determined. However, a call for participating teams will be issued in 2015.

Photo of a group of people.

In July 2015, government representatives from the United States and China formally agreed to host a second Solar Decathlon China in 2016 or 2017. Solar Decathlon China organizers include Mr. Hu (third from right), director of the China Overseas Development Association, and Mr. Li, director of the organizing committee (second from right). (Photo courtesy of Hongxi Yin)

The first Solar Decathlon China was held in Datong, China, August 2–13, 2013. The top finishers were:

  1. University of Wollongong (Australia)
  2. South China University of Technology and Huazhong University of Science and Technology (China)
  3. Chalmers University of Technology (Sweden).

Solar Decathlon China 2013 involved 22 teams from 35 universities and 13 countries. An estimated 230,000 people visited the public exhibit.

Solar Decathlon China is a member of the international family of Solar Decathlon competitions, which also includes Solar Decathlon Europe, Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean, Solar Decathlon Middle East, and the flagship U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

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


Yale University Seeks an Open Approach in Y-House

Monday, July 13, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

Although founded more than three centuries ago, Yale University is in its first Solar Decathlon this year. The team members had to scramble to make up for lost time. When they began their U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project nearly two years ago, the team consisted of eight inexperienced freshmen and sophomores.

“None of us has built a house before,” says Kate McMillan, co-project manager.

There were many moments when the crew seemed to hit dead ends—not enough time, money, experience, or backing—and yet somehow plowed through.

“But that’s one of the purposes of the competition. You start out with students who don’t have experience, and by the end of a year and a half, it’s crazy how much you do know,” McMillan says.

The team was fortified last semester by an infusion of grad students who were helping teach a class and then stayed on to advise.

Photo of a group of people.

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

“That really helped us to have people who have built houses,” says team member Thaddeus Lee. “They told us we needed to think about going modular in the design.”

The expanded group of about 15 participants also decided to take advantage of the ambient breezes in the California climate, making the house site-specific.

As a result, there’s nothing elite or Ivy League about the approach to what they call the Y-House. Instead, the compact 750-ft2 shotgun-style structure is designed to reduce material costs and energy loads while giving the impression of spaciousness by integrating outdoor space. Natural ventilation will be maximized across the north-south axis of the house. Vents above the kitchen and bathroom areas allow for hot air to escape to lower mechanical cooling loads.

Computer-generated illustration of a solar-powered house.

The Y-House takes advantage of the ambient breezes of California’s climate for natural ventilation. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Yale University team)

The structure is geared for young professionals, who can enjoy a deck and trellised patio that effectively doubles the indoor space and forms a link to the outside, connecting to the community.  Photovoltaic panels will be on the trellis, which can be used separately as a standalone feature in the future.

“We entered this competition with the idea that, while the competition is great, we could drive the greater mission of sustainability with our building. Looking past the competition, we wanted a house we could retrofit and bring back to New Haven [Connecticut],” says Juan Pablo Ponce De Leon, project manager.

Still, gearing the Y-House for California doesn’t mean the influences of New Haven and New England are lacking.

“There’s a large tradition of outdoor patios if you walk around campus and town” that informs the house layout, Ponce De Leon says.

The basic building concept is to employ modular construction by working with a housing manufacturer in Oregon. The team will add components, including a solar panel racking system and lumber from a Yale forestry site to complete the project. Furnishings will be simple to allow for ease of configuration.

All the mechanical equipment will be in a module that will slot into the house. This “technopod”—which includes the bathroom, mechanical room, kitchen, and car-charging station—can be prefabricated and connected to the rest of the structure. And that’s where the fabled Old Blue network paid off. A Yale alumnus in the sustainable housing field is working with them on that aspect of the project.

The team is proud of how far it has come—and how much impact it might have.

“If undergraduates with no prior experience can design, build, and ship a net-zero house in under two years, it is exciting to imagine how our current generation might tackle issues of sustainability,” McMillan says.

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

Solar Decathlon Continues International Expansion with Solar Decathlon Middle East

Thursday, 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

Monday, 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.