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A Solar Decathlon Entry for Historic Norfolk

Friday, August 19, 2011

By Erin Pierce

Editor’s Note: This entry has been cross-posted from DOE’s Energy Blog.

In honor of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon—which challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive—we are profiling each of the teams participating in the competition.

It’s a tale of two universities with a vision for one historic city. Students from both Hampton and Old Dominion universities have joined forces to compete in the upcoming U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon with their entry, called Unit 6 Unplugged.  As Tidewater Virginia, the students will unveil their vision for the future —an energy-efficient house that captures the “Arts and Crafts” design style of homes dotted throughout historic Norfolk, Virginia.

One of the team’s key design features is the transitional sunspace. During the warmer months, the sunspace acts as an exterior porch—motorized windows open up to let air and sunlight filter in. During colder months, the sunspace transitions into an enclosed space that functions as a heat sink—the floor absorbs heat and disperses it throughout the house overnight.

As with other Solar Decathlon entries, the house incorporates renewable energy.  A photovoltaic array is integrated into the sloped roof—and with an efficiency of more than 18%, the panels act as the main power source. In addition, light switches powered by remote transmitters can be placed anywhere in the house and never require replacement batteries. A separate mechanical core stores the house’s mechanical system in one centralized place, keeping waste heat and noise outside the main living quarters and allowing easy maintenance access.

Post-competition, Unit 6 Unplugged will return to Norfolk, where it will serve as a design studio shared by architecture and engineering students from both schools. This will continue the interdisciplinary collaboration fostered by Solar Decathlon 2011.

Erin Pierce is an energy technology program specialist at the Department of Energy.

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