Solar Decathlon House You Can Eat

Solar Decathlon House You Can Eat

Sounds crazy doesn’t it? But that’s exactly what is being accomplished in this year’s US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2011.

The Solar Decathlon which originated in 2002, occurs over a two year period and challenges collegiate teams to design and build houses that operate on solar power.

They must be attractive, cost effective, and most certainly, energy efficient and affordable.

Twenty teams from around the world, including the US, Belgium, China, and New Zealand are participating, creating a competition that is diverse both geographically and academically.

One of the most unique projects ever conceived will be presented by the University of Maryland this year. They call it the Watershed house and its design incorporates the use of a mini eco-system that captures and fully utilizes the energy from the sun, wind, rain, and even the household waste that contains valuable energy and nutritional resources. Also included in it’s design is an edible wall, although not a support wall I’m sure.

The house is laid out with two rectangular sections that are parallel to each other with the two outside opposing walls built higher which creates a roof that looks somewhat like a butterfly. The roof is designed for maximum sunlight and rainwater capture.

The structure itself is actually quite attractive and features:

– A roof top array of photovoltaic solar panels;

– The latest “smart” technologies to control ventilation, humidity, temperature, and light;

– An edible wall connected with a beautiful garden;

– Modern building materials that are pleasant to the eye.

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Amy Gardner, an associate professor of architecture at the University of Maryland says: “Our goal for Watershed is to produce an eco-system whose efficiency comes from the interconnectedness of building, site, and the people who inhabit them”.

This is the fourth time a Maryland team has made it to the finals. In 2002, they took fourth place with a residentially designed house that demonstrated the practicality of using solar energy. The team improved on their solar house project in 2005 and received the People’s Choice Award, the BP Solar Innovation Award, and a Safety Award honorable mention. In the 2007 competition, their LEAFHouse was the best in the US and placed second overall, winning the People’s Choice Award. They also gained some industry recognition as they received the ASHRAE (American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, and Air-Conditioning Engineers) award for “Integration for Renewables for Sustainable Living” and the NAHB (National Association of Home Builders) Marketing Curb Appeal First Place Award.

Students can focus their attention and sharpen their skills by taking courses offered in Architecture, Agriculture, and Engineering by UM beginning in the fall 2009 and concluding in the fall 2011. There are plenty of extracurricular activities where volunteers can help also.

Students come from a variety of fields of study including architecture, architectural landscaping, and environmental science and technology. They are accompanied by a very divers faculty as well. As Gardner puts it: “This year, the project will benefit from the UM tradition of an integrated, inter-generational team, with voices both fresh and seasoned, encompassing a depth and breadth of mentors and students from varied disciplines.”

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All of the finalists will have their projects on display at the National Mall beginning in October 2011. The National Mall is located in Washington DC and the site of the Decathlon is usually in close proximity to the Washington Monument.

Let me suggest that you take a tour with family or friends if you have some extra time or happen to be in the area. It is a free event and one that I’m sure will fascinate you while giving some valuable information with regard to our solar energy future as well.