The Solar village comes to life
The newest neighborhood in Washington has sprung to life. 20 University teams are showcasing on the National Mall their energy-independent homes, equipped with technological advances that provide maximized energy efficiency.
The Solar Decathlon (see our previous coverage here) is a bi-annual competition in ecological design and engineering. Judging will take place on October 17th and competition winners will be announced on October 19th. The entire event is open to the public with tours, workshops, and awards ceremonies for the most promising and practical showings. It is a part of the Solar America Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.
There have been two prior competitions, in 2002 and 2005. The reigning champion is the University of Colorado that, having won twice, remains the team to beat. This year´s edition brings more teams, including the first participation from the M.I.T. and a German university, Darmstadt.
The Illinois team comes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Residents of Chicago that miss the contest will have a second chance to visit their house, at the Greenbuild Expo later in November (7-9).
Though my alma mater does not compete (Complutense), I can take solace in the fact that my hometown will be represented through the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid (UPM). It is the second time they participate in the competition. In their debut, the UPM presented a Mediterranean-style house, Magic Box. This time round, their project has been called Casa Solar
The team has been very active in making it known. It offers the possibility of a virtual tour at its website, it has been showcased at a Real State Show in Spain, Sima, and it even has a presence in Second Life, for seasoned netizens.
According to Sergio Vega, the director of the Solar Decathlon project for the Universidad Politecnica de Madrid: “The Solar Decathlon is an opportunity for Spain to demonstrate its expertise in the area of sustainable living. This year, we’ve applied these advancements to an American-style home to create not only an eco-friendly structure but one with all the modern conveniences that make it truly livable.”
Casa Solar contains a system of ‘smart’ foundations and double-paned windows with an interlayer of air that allows for intelligent control of its features. Additional elements include:
— A technical floor equipped with phase-changing gels which allows for natural cooling and heating of the house
— A Photovoltaic Array system by Isofoton captures solar energy on the 800 square foot roof and converts it into electricity
— A system of window shades that prevent the loss of energy accumulated inside the home during the night, as well as systems of localized complementary insulation
— A waste collection system that is easily accessible from the kitchen counter which facilitates the separation of different types of waste with little effort. Separating waste makes it easier and cheaper to recycle.
The house has been designed with the concept of “Market viability” very much in mind, a new area the contest organizers are evaluating this year. Casa Solar has the advantage of its building flexibility as it has all the facilities ‘packages’ for the home together in a core, a sort of “technological backpack” which acts as a thermal buffer and is located in the coolest area of the house.