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US Universities Shine at Solar Decathlon Europe

July 2, 2010

(As Posted to CleanTechies on 6/30/10) Virginia Tech’s Lumenhaus was just awarded the grand prize at the Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 in Madrid, beating out the University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim by less than one point in the event’s inaugural year.  University of Florida’s RE:Focus also shined, bringing home the public choice award via public online voting.  In its first year to be hosted internationally, this was a great showing by American Universities and a promising sign for the future of the US design and engineering industry.

Virginia Tech’s ‘Lumenhaus’ is a flexible pavilion style home inspired by Mies Van Der Rohe’s Farnsworth house.  Large glass walls to the North and South are shaded by their custom designed ‘Eclipse System’ which has the ability to slide open with the glass allowing the occupant to become more in tune with nature.  Rainwater collection, radiant floor heating and sun tracking solar PV panels are just a few of thetechnologies integrated into the design which allow the house to be completely powered by renewable energy.  Virginia Tech also created an in depth energy management and web based occupant controls to tackle the challenge of behavioral energy consumption.  The system allows the building to adapt freely while allowing the user to maintain override capability on all the energy systems.

The University of Florida’s ‘RE:Focus’ house is modeled after the Florida vernacular ‘Cracker’ style, with a modern day dog-trot included, which incorporates outdoor living spaces to expand the livable square footage.  Composed of a living and bedroom module the home uses the zoning of air conditioning systems to meet the specific need of the occupant driving down energy consumption needed for conditioning, typically the largest load.  A responsive skin is one of the most innovative features, delicately folding out to create porch overhangs while in one section it incorporates cylindrical solar tubes which collect energy from any angle and offers shade to the structure beyond.  The UF team was also able to salvage wood from the community adding character and reinforcing their motto of allowing the old to inspire the new.

Both teams relied on modular or panelized systems for the obvious needs of transportation to Madrid and back, but also for illustrating future expansion options, adding value to their business case.  Another similarity which seems to be trending in the modern green building movement is the idea of a responsive skin or shading devices which adapt to the outdoor climate while considering indoor demands of lighting and air allowing for more passive approaches to energy efficiency.

While the Solar Decathlon has been running in the US under the Department of Energy since 2002, Spain’s Ministry of Housing organized the Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 working under a Memorandum of Understanding with the US DOE.  This year’s competition included teams from 17 Universities internationally and garnered 191,000 visitors to the exhibition topping US attendance records.

The next Solar Decathlon is slated for the National Mall in 2011 with SD Europe in the summer of 2012.

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