A Look Back on the U.S. Solar Decathlon by Elaina Zodiatis - EmPower Solar

A Look Back on the U.S. Solar Decathlon by Elaina Zodiatis

Guest Post by EmPower Solar Student Competition Winner, 2013

Every two years, the U. S. Department of Energy sponsors the Solar Decathlon. This year, it was held in Irvine, California. This competition brings together the brightest and most innovative college students to compete in designing and building homes that are affordable, energy efficient, and aesthetically appealing. As winners of the EmPower Solar Student Competition, Team Avalon STATE had the privilege of experiencing this collegiate competition up close.

We arrived at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California on October 11. After receiving our guide books, we immersed ourselves in the experience. There were 19 solar homes in all, each with its own unique characteristics. The students that constructed the homes were all eager to give tours of their creations, and were tireless and very enthusiastic. All of the homes were very impressive; it was difficult to choose my favorites.

My three favorite homes were Team Capitol DC from (The Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University), Team Kentucky/Indiana (University of Louisville, Ball State University, and University of Kentucky), and Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology.

Team Capitol DC, The Harvest Home, stood out because of its tranquil and soothing environment. Its design was not industrial, and it felt like a home. The designers used beautiful materials and colors that allowed for a subtle transition from the indoor and outdoor aspects of the home. Another form of conservation in this home was the reclaimed and recycled wood to make the floors and other wooden features in the home. The energy efficient system used smart home management to monitor and track the energy used and saved. Another interesting feature of this home was the shading screen. This screen modulated the temperature of the home by that opening or closing in response to exterior weather conditions. The reason why this home was unique was because this home had our U.S. Military veterans in mind. This home will be used to help them adjust and heal from their physical and mental disabilities when they come back home.

Next, Team Kentucky/Indiana (The Phoenix House) designed their home with natural disaster-struck families in mind. This home was designed to be constructed quickly and provide people with safe and efficient shelter. In this home, solar energy was used as power, and it was used in a water heating system. Using solar energy in these two aspects increased the solar efficiency of this home. In addition, each part of the house served a dual purpose. For example, the bathroom in this home also served as weather shelter with a steel door and non-shattering window.

Last, Team Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology (The DALE, Dynamic Augmented Living Environment), had two moving modules with the ability to expand. The two modules moved on a set of rails that could increase and decrease the size of the rooms as needed. They used solar thermal collectors to heat water and heat the home with the use of steam. The house-monitoring system was very impressive in this home. It collected information on the energy production of the home, the water consumption, and helped stabilize the indoor temperatures of the home.

All of the homes were unique and we appreciated something special about all of them. The collaboration between so many different disciplines is what made these homes feasible. They all met the challenge to incorporate design, affordability, and clean energy solutions.

We also paid a visit to the Toyota Drive Center which featured fuel efficient hybrids and zero emission, plug-in electric vehicles. Hope my mother was paying attention; it would make a great graduation present in three years!

The take away message was that with the technology we have today, and the ever increasing advancements, it is possible to live an energy efficient and environmentally-friendly life. We are now at the point that it is possible to not only save energy, but also share the energy with others. We hope that our continued interest in the sciences will someday contribute to the improvement of our environment. We appreciated this unique opportunity and we thank all of the EmPower Team, especially David Schieren and Greg Sachs, for making it possible.

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