Western New York may not be known as a hotbed of solar energy innovation yet, but the addition of the ultra-efficient Alf House is beginning to change that.
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project from Team NY Alfred in Alfred, New York—made up of the State University of New York at Alfred College of Technology and Alfred University—is being used to spread the word about renewable energy.
“We’ve been able to reach the area schools around us and give them an idea of what the future looks like and how they could be part of it,” says Jessica Scoones of Team NY Alfred.
Scoones, who just completed her freshman year studying renewable energy engineering, chose Alfred University because of its involvement in the Solar Decathlon.
The team’s outreach efforts have also gone beyond local schools. Decathletes have canvassed the area, which includes a low-income population, to see what technologies might be valuable to residents.
“We’ve managed to make the house not just a simple family home for four, but we’ve been able to talk to local farmers and get their take on what they could use to better their own homes,” says Scoones.
Members of Team NY Alfred gather in front of Alf House, under construction at the State University of New York Alfred Wellsville Campus, in April. (Credit: Rick W. McLay /Team NY Alfred)
Although she has been involved only since last September, others have been preparing for several years. The two schools were part of a collaboration with China’s Guilin University of Technology in the first Solar Decathlon China in 2013. The experience stoked the group for its participation in the 2015 U.S. competition.
And that’s where the Alf House comes in. The project’s name underscores the unity between the schools, which are literally across the street from each other in Alfred, a small town south of Rochester and southeast of Buffalo.
Scoones, who is minoring in communications, has been working on outreach for the team and is content to leave most of the building to trained groups from Alfred College, which has classes in construction.
“In a couple of weeks, I’ll be going down from my hometown of Utica, New York, to do some of the smaller things, like painting the inside, that don’t require me to hurt myself,” she says, laughing.
Despite the fact that she’s a college volleyball player, she says: “I’m a klutz. Somehow, the grace doesn’t transfer. We went for a picture, and I tripped and fell.”
Team NY Alfred designed the Alf House for a family of four in southern New York State. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Team NY Alfred)
As the module structure comes together, she’s been impressed by the innovations throughout the house. One group of engineers is working on a solar-powered washer-dryer system.
“I come from a family of six and know how much energy is used just washing clothes,” says Scoones.
She says the architects and engineers have found ways to take the interior space and turn it into something that seems so much bigger.
“The house feels huge, and it’s so efficient,” she says.
“Being able to reach into the rustic, hilly-ness of our Allegany County and turn [this ambiance] into something modern and forward-thinking is impressive,” she says.
“I’m really excited to see it onsite in California,” she says.
And just as the project will impact the area, it has also impacted her career goals of working in renewable energy for housing by giving her unique experience.
“I think I’ll be that much more marketable with this innovative project,” she says.
But perhaps the best thing will be the changes that the Alf House will inspire in others for years to come.
“Our house acts more as a role model than a standalone home,” she says, a notion that adds to the overall satisfaction of the team. And there’s been plenty.
As she says, “It’s a joy to be a part of this.”
Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.