U.S. university wins European Solar Home contest!

Earlier this week a team from Virginia Tech, with their Lumenhaus entry, took home first place in the first ever Solar Decathlon Europe contest held in Madrid, Spain .  The University of Florida took home 8th place.  The majority of the contestants were from schools in Europe.  The Solar Decathlon is usually held in the United States as a program of the Department of Energy.  This was the first year that a contest was held in Europe.  From the Solar Decathlon Europe site:
The Solar Decathlon Europe (SD Europe) 2010 was created through an agreement signed between the Government of Spains Ministry of Housing and the United States Government, who committed to organize a sustainable solar architecture competition in Europe. In October 2007, both governments signed an agreement (a Memorandum of Understanding) as part of the Solar City framework of the Solar Decathlon 2007. Nineteen top universities from around the world were selected to participate in the 2010 competition, which will be held in Madrid. Their participation in the competition will undoubtedly serve to raise the visibility and prestige of those institutions.
The American win was a huge defeat to universities from Germany.  The Technische Universität Darmstadt of Germany, who has beaten out U.S. schools in the 2007 and 2009 Solar Decathlon, didn't compete in Europe, but the University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim took second.  It is good to see that at least one team from America can be victorious on another country's soil this year (but we gave it a good try in soccer - a.k.a. football to the rest of you).  However, the German teams were a clear winner in terms of "name pronunciation difficulty for a non-German speaker".
Some of the Lumenhaus technologies include:
  • zero-energy home that is completely powered by the sun
  • The PVs, arranged in a single array that covers the roof, are built into the house during construction. The panels are bifacial, meaning they use both sides to increase energy output by up to 15 percent.
  • the entire PV array can be tilted to the optimal angle for each season (from zero degrees to a 17-degree angle in summer and to a 35-degree angle in winter).
  • The concrete floor houses a radiant floor heating system. The system heats the house by means of a water-to-water heat pump that extracts heat from the earth in the winter and uses the earth as a coolant in the summer.
  • the north and south walls are all glass, maximizing the owner’s exposure to bright, natural daylight
  • The fully automated Eclipsis System, comprising independent sliding layers, permits a revolutionary design in a solar-powered house, while filtering light in beautiful, flowing patterns throughout the day.  It is an advanced building façade comprising two layers: a metal shutter shade and a translucent insulating panel. The shutter shade slides along the north and south façades, providing protection from direct sunlight while simultaneously allowing for indirect, natural lighting, views to the exterior and privacy to those inside.
  • For convenience and energy efficiency, the home's systems are monitored and connected to an iPhone application.
  • LUMENHAUS epitomizes a “whole building design” construction approach, in which all the home’s components and systems have been designed to work together to maximize user comfort with environmental protection. It can operate completely self sufficiently, responding to environmental changes automatically to balance energy efficiency with user comfort
  • optimizes the use of passive energy through day lighting, natural ventilation and natural passive heating and cooling.
  • building materials that are from renewable and/or recyclable sources
  • The wood decking around the house has been harvested from fast-growth, sustainable forests. The concrete floor, which collects heat in the winter, contains recycled fly ash, while the translucent insulation panels on the north and south façades have an R-value equal to that of a typical solid wall. The zinc cladding and aluminum framing on the exterior of the house are extremely durable and recyclable.
  • The house has a computer interface that manages all of its systems. Many aspects of these systems can be controlled by the user, at home or remotely, through either a computer or a smartphone. The management system gives live feedback of the house’s energy consumption, allowing you to be more energy conscious and to easily make changes to be more efficient
  • not only energy-efficient; it is water-efficient, too. The roof is sloped to collect rainwater that is filtered for potable (drinkable) use in the house, while water used in the house (greywater – from the shower, bathroom sink and clothes washer) goes through a series of bio-filters in the surrounding landscape where it is cleaned for non-potable use.
  • a low-energy, long-lasting Light Emitting Diode (LED) lighting system. Built right into the insulating panels of the Eclipsis System and throughout the house in strategic spots, the interior and exterior spaces will be amply lit.

Solar PV, Passive solar energy, LED, Geothermal water heating, Greywater, Rainwater collection, Insulation, etc.  All of these are topics we've covered on Mapawatt and are great technologies to investigate for a new sustainable home or home retrofit.

I think one of the neatest features of the house is the Eclipsis System.  It basically is a way to allow more natural light into your home while also providing privacy and insulation.  It seems that the metal shutters don't actually rotate, so you can't open and close them, but I could be mistaken on this.  What do you think is the neatest feature or the most likely one that you would adopt?  I'm sure one of our community readers could use some of these ideas in his plans to modify a travel trailer to live off-grid.

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What I find curious is that this same house only got 13th place in the 2009 US Solar Decathlon. The 9kw PV array seems a bit overkill for a building the size and the ~$400 a sq/ft build cost, using free labor and many donated materials, is a bit mindblowing. As much as I love to see the extensive use of aerogel to pull off high insulation levels, I wish more of these project homes would focus on realistic insulation materials, reduction of thermal bridging, and air barriers. I have a strong feeling that with those rollerwalls, this house would miserably fail a blower door test. Most of these homes are just wizbang examples to show what happens when you throw every technology at an issue, vs. smart/efficient building techniques. While that certainly is a worthwhile venture for academia, I feel that the lessons learned aren't that useful for 99.99% of construction. There are a few gems in the last US competition, and one of the best (and higher scoring than Virgina Tech's) was Rice University's entry. It was simple to construct, about 1/3rd to 1/4 the cost of most of the rest of the entries (below $250,000), and was still able to get 8th place out of 20 entries. It was the only entry to meet the HUD 80% median income guidelines. It was simple to build, affordable and yet still netzero, that's the makings of a real winner in my opinion.

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