August 10, 2007 4:00 AM PDT

Energy geeks compete for coolest solar home

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To power the Solar 7, the MIT crew is installing a 9-kilowatt solar array--much bigger than what houses of this size would typically need. The electricity will be stored in 24 batteries capable of holding 70 kilowatt-hours, which can run the home in the absence of sun and be recharged in two days.

The excess power is essential to the competition, as Solar Decathlon contestants are judged on how far they can drive their DOE-provided electric car.

The building will also be wired with sensors to measure the fluctuations in temperature, which is a way for judges to gauge the builders' ability to maintain a comfortable indoor climate. That information can also serve prospective owners looking to track their energy consumption, noted Fucetola.

Sustainable design
But for all its high-tech components, good architectural design is perhaps the most challenging aspect of the project. That's in addition to making it a livable space with room for a bedroom, full bathroom, dining area and living room.

For starters, the house needs to be modular and assembled by nonprofessional builders because contestants need to transport and reassemble their creations on the National Mall. The initial design, which originally came out of a sustainable architectural workshop, needed to be substantially altered to make dismantling and reassembly easier, said Keville, adding that the entire house will be held together by screws, not nails.

Design choice can also substantially reduce the amount of energy required to run a home. For example, the house's roof will maximize the amount of daylight that comes in, thereby cutting down on electricity requirements. At the same time, the roof is angled so light doesn't pour in during the hottest part of the day.

Similarly, MIT Solar 7 will have a front awning and windows on the opposite side of the house to maximize air flow through the home, which provides clean air and helps cool it.

"One of the guiding principles is that we would be using daylighting and natural ventilation as much as possible," Fucetola said.

Also planned is a water-reclamation feature that will collect runoff water and store it for landscaping, and a roof that the designers hope will prevent ice buildup.

As the student lead on the project, Fucetola, who spends four days a week at the site, has become something of an evangelist, recruiting volunteers by asking interested passersby to get involved. "I tell people in elevators about this," he said.

The team hopes to sell off its creation as a way to fund MIT's entry in the next Solar Decathlon competition in two years. (Realtors have expressed interest.)

So will MIT Solar 7 live up to its billing and be a "net zero energy" solar home? Keville says the home will generate more electricity than it consumes for most of the year.

"We know for nine months of the year that we'll be net energy positive," he said. "We may be break-even in January and February. We'll find out when we bring it back to Cambridge."

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Energy History
Also need to consider the energy history of the home and all the parts that went into it. How much energy did it take to create each piece. Solar panel production takes a lot of energy. Just something to think about.
Posted by toomchstout (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Getting off the grid is not what is important. No photovoltaic panels!
Energy efficient glass, high R factor insulation, automatic awnings, are all things that should be looked at.
If you see a Solar Panel go up on any of these homes the competitors need to go back to school. Look at the cost in dollars and CO2 to manufacture your items and track the energy capture from your panels. Cost is critical. We will never get Solar Power off the ground and to any significance if students, professors, and businesses don?t understand the Solar Transfer concept and that putting a photovoltaic panel on a fixed angle on a rooftop in any state in the country is not the way to go. Sure, go solar but plant your panel that you would have put on your roof out in a higher solar constant zone on a dual axis platform where it will capture 2-3 times more power for someone near by. Don't worry you will get credit for your good deeds and smart move in the form of a wire transfer of extra money. That is the trick, make it financially worthwhile to do and you may be on to something. BP, GE, Google, Wal-Mart, and others need to understand this. Please email us if you understand and think you can help get the word out.
Posted by Manhattan2 (329 comments )
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Not the point.
The first point of going all solar was for PR. The second and more important was, by limiting your energy budget to what you can get off of commercial solar panels, you force the contestants to be very efficient in energy usage.

The third point is that it makes an interesting engineering problem. Isn't that the point behind school?
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
Not really cutting edge
I still see wood-based products in the construction. In addition to being an energy misor, this house should also be built for the inhabitants and the planet's long range health. Wood gets mold. Mold spores cause all kinds of lung issues. Wood gets termites. Do you want to live in a building sprayed by toxic materials? Hey, aren't pesticides made from petroleum? Wood also burns easily. How many people die from fires every year? Wood comes from trees. We've just about cut down all of the old growth forests in this country. Not a very ecologically sound practice.

I like the idea of form-poured concrete houses. It takes care of all of the above concerns, except making concrete is a very energy intensive process. That doesn't get us far, does it? Maybe a similar from of construction, but using more natural materials with minimum processing.
Posted by Rick Cavaretti (216 comments )
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RE: Not really cutting edge
Wood comes from trees. We've just about cut down all of the old growth forests in this country.

----

As I understand it, much of our new construction comes from "new growth" trees - trees planted and cultivated to grow quickly. Mold, especially the dreaded "Black Mold" comes from constant moisture on the wood, and more commonly the drywall on top of it.

Concrete is still a "natural resource" and isn't the easiest to get, transport or put together. The gravel (is it really gravel?) is generally transported by train (!) to where it is mixed with other compounds to strengthen it. I believe that the wood we use is replenished faster than the materials that make up concrete.

The carbon footprint of the everyday american has so much more to do with our culture than just using our car to drive to work each day. Sure that doesn't help, but all the services that we use on a daily basis are transported around by carbon consuming vehicles from "far away" places.
Posted by blsith (48 comments )
Link Flag
The Solar Decathlon is on MySpace!
Hey Everybody!!

The Solar Decathlon now has a Myspace page, where you can find lots of info about the event, download some cool desktops, and find links to all of the teams' websites. Lots of cool stuff to see! Check it out at:

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.myspace.com/solardecathlon07" target="_newWindow">http://www.myspace.com/solardecathlon07</a>

See you at the competition!
Posted by Solar Decathlon (1 comment )
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Energy Geeks
Go Geeks! You will save the world! May God bless you and help you in your quest.
Posted by spothannah (145 comments )
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