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U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Director Richard King Reports From Solar Decathlon Europe

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Solar Decathlon Europe is spectacular, wonderful, amazing, and awesome. The teams of students and faculty are just wonderful to talk to, and the homes they are building are even more brilliant than anything we have seen at past events.  Maybe it’s the fifth generation, maybe it’s the Spanish rules, or maybe it’s the international diversity, but Solar Decathlon Europe is sure to be historic in terms of showcasing what the state of the art is around the world.  I am trying to put into words what my jet-lagged brain is trying to say, and hopefully more will become clear as the event progresses, but to bring together the best thinking from around the world must be significant. We are all looking for solutions, and to bring all these ideas together in a competitive melting pot so we can all learn from each other—you just have to believe progress is being accelerated.

The weather in Spain this time of year is supposed to be sunny and dry, but yesterday when I arrived it was raining. Rain makes it hard on the teams to build. Tools and materials are spread out all over their lots and keeping them covered is a hassle. Many houses don’t have roofs yet, so rain really slows the teams down. The village became a tarp city as large blue tarps were being used everywhere to protect the houses and tools. Two of the teams were clever enough to erect large tents over their houses and continued working in the rain. Today, Sunday June 13th, the rain has stopped and everyone is making faster progress. Opening ceremonies begin on Thursday, so there is not much time left!

I have seen new technology on some of the houses and some fantastic carpentry. The French team from Atrs et Metiers Paris Tech is using a hybrid parabolic trough collector and both photovoltaic for electricity and thermal for heating. It will also have about 3 kW of Sunpower modules mounted flat on the roof. The total capacity will be about 5.5 kW. The Paris house also has a wood frame that the team has fabricated itself.

I am told that the Helsinki University of Technology and a couple of the German houses also have terrific woodworking, so I can’t wait to get inside when they are finished. But the most amazing of all is the Instituto de Arquitectura Avanzada de Cataluna from Spain, which has made its whole house of wood it machined back in its university shop. It sounds simple, but it is curved with intricately fitting pieces. Just an amazing wood sculpture.

There are two Chinese teams here, and both houses are exquisite. The Tianjin University is building its house of bamboo—the main structure as well as inside and outside walls. Insulation is between the bamboo. The team is so industrious and organized, it had its house finished in four days.  Today, it is working on its decking.

The Spanish organizers changed our U.S. rules a bit by adding a new contest called Innovation and Sustainability. This rule has produced many green technologies for sustainability, which our event also does. But more notable here is the innovation. The universities are trying advanced technology and new ideas. I have just scratched the surface in my 24 hours of scouting, but this event is certainly pushing the envelope. For those who love R&D, following their progress and effectiveness throughout the contest should provide interesting and exciting results.

The opening ceremony is scheduled for Thursday, June 17, and the competition begins on Friday, June 18, and runs through Sunday, June 27.

I will be reporting from the event daily as best I can, so check back for updates. Until tomorrow, adios.

Richard King is the director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Throughout the Solar Decathlon Europe competition, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon organizers are reporting from Madrid.

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