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

Posts Tagged ‘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.

 

Solar Decathlon Organizers Update 2015 Team Roster

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

By Carol Laurie

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Director Richard King today announced that Team Tennessee, comprising Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University, has withdrawn from the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition.

“We’re disappointed to lose Team Tennessee in the 2015 competition,” King said. “At our workshop in Irvine, the team members showed commitment and enthusiasm for their project. They’ve worked hard over the past year, and I know this is a disappointment for them, their faculty, and their many supporters.”

The team indicated it will continue working with Habitat for Humanity of Greater Nashville and will finish building the house.

“This has been an invaluable experience for the students so far and will continue to be. Solar Decathlon and Habitat for Humanity are providing students an opportunity to learn design, engineering, and construction skills that incorporate sustainability at every turn,” said Vanderbilt University engineering professor and team lead Ralph Bruce. “Our team members and the professors advising them determined funding constraints weren’t conducive to further participation. We are grateful for the opportunity to get this far in Solar Decathlon and look forward to finishing the project independently.”

The updated Solar Decathlon 2015 team roster 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
  • West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata
  • Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana
  • Yale University.

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

Solar Decathlon Welcomes Sustaining Sponsor Wells Fargo

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

By Carol Laurie

Wells Fargo has returned as a sustaining sponsor of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, becoming the first sponsor to confirm sustaining-level support for Solar Decathlon 2015.

“Wells Fargo is proud to be a sustaining sponsor for Solar Decathlon 2015, an event that aligns closely with our overall environmental commitment,” says Ashley Grosh, vice president, environmental affairs, Wells Fargo. “We congratulate everyone who is involved with this amazing student competition and appreciate their commitment to helping develop America’s clean technology infrastructure.”

Wells Fargo has sponsored the Solar Decathlon since 2011 and was a sustaining sponsor of Solar Decathlon 2013. The company has a long history of supporting environmental causes—including investments in more than 300 solar projects and 47 wind projects that generate enough clean, renewable energy to power hundreds of thousands of American homes each year.

Photo of a Wells Fargo building with solar panels on its roof.

Wells Fargo returns as a sustaining sponsor to Solar Decathlon 2015. The financial services company is committed to reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions and operating sustainably. (Photo courtesy of Wells Fargo)

“We’re thrilled to welcome back Wells Fargo as a partner and supporter of the Solar Decathlon,” says Richard King, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. “Sponsors like Wells Fargo make it possible for the Solar Decathlon to educate students and the public about the financial and environmental benefits of clean energy products and design solutions.”

In 2014, Wells Fargo, a community-based financial services company, launched the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, a $10-million environmental grant program for clean technology startups that is co-administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. A leader in reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions and operating sustainably, Wells Fargo has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and the U.S. Green Building Council. Since 2005, Wells Fargo has provided more than $28 billion in environmental finance, supporting sustainable buildings and renewable energy projects nationwide.

Sustaining sponsors are the highest-level sponsors of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Sponsorships are based on a list of needs determined by event organizers.

If your company is interested in becoming a Solar Decathlon sponsor at any level, please contact Richard King at richard.king@ee.doe.gov or visit our sponsor pages.

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

Clemson University Solves 3-D Jigsaw To Build a Solar House

Monday, January 26, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

It’s not easy to get 50 people to work together, meet deadlines, and exchange ideas on a long-term project. Sometimes, it feels like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. As the Clemson University team designed the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project it calls Indigo Pine, that “puzzle” mentality may have influenced its approach.

“In South Carolina and much of the United States, homes are typically constructed using lightwood stick-framing methods that use small, light pieces,” says Lauren Kenner, an architecture graduate student who was part of the group’s early design team. “We looked at these techniques but found they required experienced labor and created potential safety hazards with nail guns and construction high on ladders.”

Photo of a group of young people.

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

So the team came up with a unique solution. It created a construction system called SimPly, which uses a computer numerical control, or CNC, wood router to cut pieces. The SimPly construction method employs traditional mortise and tenon joinery—with the tenon tongue fitting into the mortise hole. It’s a widely used application to join pieces of wood, particularly at 90° angles.

As a result, the structure of the house can be assembled without the use of power tools or cranes—something the team believes is an environmental benefit. Hazards are also minimized.

“It really does look like a 3-D puzzle when the pieces are laid out,” says Kenner.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house hovering above its blueprint floor plans.

Clemson University’s Indigo Pine house will be created using a computerized construction system that enables the team to email files to a partner in California, who will cut the pieces. The house can then be assembled onsite, with no shipping required. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Clemson University team)

The 1,000-ft2, three-bedroom house reflects the team’s Clemson, South Carolina, heritage—indigo is a famous dye from the state, and pine is a plentiful material used in the state for generations.

The team will construct Indigo Pine “East” in early spring. Yet, because of the SimPly system, computer plans for the house—rather than building materials—can be shipped anywhere. Parts can then be manufactured at any site using local materials.

That’s how the Clemson team will assemble its house—Indigo Pine “West”—at the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition site in Irvine, California. Working with a partner company in California, the decathletes will email their files and then pick up the pieces in the Golden State—no shipping required. Although they won’t have to truck wood across the country, South Carolina’s yellow pine will be there in spirit.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house with large covered porch.

Indigo Pine has all the traditional elements of a Southern home but rewrites the vernacular to create a house for modern, sustainable living. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Clemson University team)

“Other parts, such as windows and fixtures, will be the kind you can get from a store like Home Depot,” Kenner says.

To secure the structure of the house, the team will use stainless steel zip ties. Teammates at Clemson’s Charleston campus will design and craft custom cabinets to define space within the open interior of Indigo Pine and reflect traditional South Carolina vernacular style.

The concept for SimPly sustainable housing won’t end when Solar Decathlon 2015 is over. Kenner says one of the team’s ideas is to develop kits so that people all over the world can buy ready-to-assemble housing from stores in their own country.

After realizing early on that “working together was a lot more complicated than we thought,” Kenner says, the pieces of the teamwork puzzle began to fit together. One reason is university-sponsored “family” lunches on Thursdays, to which all decathletes are invited.

“These lunches make everyone feel a part of the Indigo Pine family,” Kenner says.

And surely, when the puzzle is re-assembled on site at Solar Decathlon 2015, the Clemson family will feel part of the world’s renewable energy solution.

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