Every two years, the U.S. Department of Energy holds its “Solar Decathlon” competition, which took place this year on October 8-18 at the Orange Country Great Park in Irvine, California. Michael A. Moodian of The Huffington Post, argues that the contest is an absolute necessity, quoting reports written by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which states that drastic and urgent action is needed to implement energy efficiency and clean technology solutions in order to stave off major catastrophic climate change.
The official website run by the U.S. Department of Energy, states that the contest, “challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.” Most teams that submit an entry are backed by a major U.S. or Canadian post secondary institution, and students normally spend up to two years designing and constructing their entry homes. The University of Toronto has a team that submits an entry to the Solar Decathlon. The team from U of T is not made up exclusively of engineers, putting forth an initiative to make the team as diverse as possible, a collaborative effort among a variety of disciplines.
Every team’s entry is judged based on 5 broad criteria:
- Consumer Appeal
- Design Excellence
- Optimal Energy Production
- Maximum Energy Efficiency
The winning team must earn the highest number of points from 10 juried contests: Architecture, Comfort Zone, Market Appeal, Appliances, Engineering, Home Life, Communications, Commuting, Affordability, and Energy Balance. What this translates into is a house that Is affordable, attractive, and easy to live in. One that maintains comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions, and is able to supply enough energy to support activities including cooking, cleaning, water heating, entertainment, and commuting. Finally, and most importantly, the house should consume only as much energy as it produces, a zero net result for energy consumption.
And this year’s winning team, hailing from the Stevens Institute of Technology, draws inspiration from Hurricane Sandy, unveiling a sustainable coastal home called the “SURE HOUSE” that, according to Gizmag, “opens up for entertaining in summertime but locks down to resist severe weather damage in the winter.” Short for “SUstainable and REsilient, the Stevens teams wanted to build a house that could stand up to extreme weather along the coast of the Jersey Shore.
“Beachfront living is all about enjoying summer weather, so the SURE HOUSE opens right up when the weather’s nice, doubling its floor space with several outdoor living areas. But when the weather turns sour, the beachside shades fold down to become storm shutters capable of resisting intense weather events.”
The SURE HOUSE consumes 90% less energy than a regular home, which it achieves by using highly efficient appliances like a Daikin Skyair zoned heat pump for heating, cooling and dehumidifaction, as well as solar electric hot water and a Zehnder Novus energy recovery ventilation system that recovers heat from the building exhaust and preconditions incoming fresh air. The rooftop solar panels can produce 10,000 watts of power, and is connected to the main power grid. In the event of a power shutdown, the transformer switches over to produce 3,000 watts of emergency power, completely off the grid.