Congressional Testimony Reflects on Solar Decathlon

In recent testimony before the House Science Subcommittee on Energy, witnesses representing teams that competed in the 2005 Solar Decathlon said that while the competition could help move new solar technologies into the marketplace by showcasing real, working solar-powered homes to the general public, in some ways it could hinder widespread adoption of the technologies.

Some witnesses pointed out, for example, that the competition’s design limitations result in model homes quite unlike a home that would be occupied by the general public. The competition, sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE), challenges the nation’s colleges and universities to construct livable homes that are energy efficient and completely powered by solar energy. This year’s Decathlon, DOE’s second, was held in September on the National Mall and drew 120,000 visitors; the first, held in 2002, drew 100,000. Competing homes in the Decathlon are judged in 10 categories: architecture, dwelling, documentation, communications, comfort zone, appliances, hot water, lighting, energy balance, and getting around. “If we could produce just a fraction of the power for our buildings from the sun and, at the same time, reduce our total energy demand by using smarter technologies and designs, the impact on our energy outlook would be tremendous,” said Subcommittee Chairman Judy Biggert (R-IL). “That is why we are so optimistic about this competition. Young scientists, engineers, and architects — the future builders of America — learn about the latest energy technologies. They learn to work together to balance aesthetics with energy utility to make their homes attractive to the average buyer. Finally, they inspire their peers, the public, and policymakers to think in new ways about how we use our energy. This is the kind of inspiration the nation needs as we continue to confront a variety of energy challenges.” “The Solar Decathlon is specifically designed to help teams integrate solar energy and energy efficient building technologies and practices into their designs,” said Richard Moorer, DOE’s Deputy Assistant Secretary for Technology Development in the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. “This was accomplished by fully involving DOE’s Solar Program and Building Technologies program in Solar Decathlon team activities, including materials development, pre-competition meetings, and contest designs. In addition, the inclusion of sponsors like the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and BP Solar was intended to significantly improve outreach capability with professional builders, architects and solar equipment manufacturers in the U.S.” But witnesses said the Decathlon guidelines could limit successful outreach. Jeffrey Lyng, Team Project Manager for the University of Colorado (UC), which won the Solar Decathlon this year and in 2002, said, “We are here because we acknowledge the potential of the Solar Decathlon competition to spark innovation, ingenuity and change. We also recognize that the competition can be improved.” Lyng said that UC’s house would not be very attractive to the mainstream market, because it “was designed in cooperation with a specific client and for the unique purpose of being transported over long distances.” For future competitions, he suggested that DOE consider increasing the 800 square foot size maximum, establish a mini grid from which the houses could draw power — as they would in a real-world application — and replace the current energy balance contest for a lifecycle contest that would more accurately reflect true operational costs of the houses. Robert Schubert, Team Advisor for Virginia Polytechnic Institute, and professor in VPI’s Department of Architecture, testified that the relationships built between competing academic institutions and private industry are important for facilitating technology transfer. “Among many corporations, Virginia Tech worked with GE Specialty Film and Sheet and Cabot Corporation to produce a wall that delivers great light and high insulation. Likewise, collaboration with California Closets has the corporation, for the first time, building cabinet prototypes from a Dow Chemical wheat board that is sustainable and nondetrimental to the environment.” Jonathan Knowles, a professor in the Architecture Department at the Rhode Island School of Design, and advisor to RISD’s Decathlon team, added, “Differing from conventions and trade shows, the Solar Decathlon is a public demonstration; the houses work and prove that the technology is here now. Nothing presented at the Solar Decathlon is out of the public’s reach.” “This high-profile competition had a deeply positive impact on helping to move solar and efficiency technologies into the mainstream building market,” said David Schieren, the Energy Team Leader for the New York Institute of Technology (NYIT). The NYIT team developed a two-part dwelling, “Green Machine/Blue Space,” featuring a prefabricated section containing the house’s mechanical systems, kitchen and bathroom — the “Green Machine” — coupled with a custom-built, site-specific living area — the “Blue Space.” The team also developed an innovative solar-hydrogen energy system in which excess energy is stored in hydrogen gas.
Previous articleMaryland Renewable Fuels Incentive Board Meeting
Next articleVertical-Axis Wind Turbine Evaluated as Renewable Energy Alternative

No posts to display