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Solar Decathlon Europe Poses New Challenges for Electricity Production

Monday, June 14, 2010

The best part of the Solar Decathlon Europe assembly period is the continual surprises as the designs are revealed. Some of the new things I saw today were:

  • The Universidad de Sevilla’s (Spain) solar chimney with ceramic tubes for natural cooling
  • Stuttgart University’s (Germany) exquisite multicolored photovoltaic side walls
  • The Ecole National Superieure d’Architecture de Grenoble’s (France) stucco walls, which were hand-applied by one of the best tradesmen in Japan
  • The Universidad CEU Cardenal Herrera’s (Spain) parabolic solar collectors, which heat transfer fluid to cook food in the oven.

Yes, I said cook in the oven. The Solar Decathlon Europe organizers added this cooking requirement to their rules because they believe the houses will collect much more energy from the sun than they will need. So they wanted to find ways to make the houses expend more energy. This is different from the U.S. Department of Energy for two reasons. First, it is much sunnier in Spain than in Washington, D.C. Second, Solar Decathlon Europe is being held during the summer solstice, when the sun is strongest and the days are longest. In comparison, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is held during the autumn equinox, when the sun is lower in the sky and the days are shorter. Cooking food in the oven will use energy not only for the actual cooking but also for air conditioning, which will be needed to balance the heat produced by the hot oven. Incidentally, that is why I grill outside a lot in the summer time. It’s the more energy-efficient way to cook. In the winter, we want to take advantage of the oven’s warmth, but in the summer, we hate to start a fire in the oven when it’s hot outside.

The organizers also have made the Energy Balance contest harder. In the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2009 Energy Balance contest, teams received full points (100) for a net meter reading of zero (i.e., they produced as much electricity as they used). At Solar Decathlon Europe, the houses will have to produce more than what they need to receive the equivalent points. These are subtle differences to know when watching the scoring, which starts on Friday.

Teams have been working diligently and steadily all day. There was a thunder storm at 3:30 p.m. It rained hard, so I scurried inside and started writing. But now the sky is blue, and the sun is out.

I can’t wait to see what new surprises have been unveiled. I am also going to check on the two U.S. teams, Virginia Tech and the University of Florida, to see how they are doing. As of this afternoon, Virginia Tech had made the most progress in completing assembly. The University of Florida, which was delayed a day or two because the truck carrying its house was stuck on the streets on Madrid, has had a lot of activity so far today. I think they are just about back on schedule.

Until tomorrow, adiós.

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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