Solar Decathlon 2011
Power for the New Zealand house is supplied by a smaller system than in many of the other homes — just a 6.3-kilowatt solar array comprised of 28 polycrystalline photovoltaic panels on the roof. The home also uses a system of 40 evacuated-tube solar collectors to harness sunshine for heating water.
In keeping with the team's theme of bringing the outdoors inside, First Light has wraparound decking that extends through the center of the house and is topped by a triple-glazed skylight and flanked by bi-fold doors.
Custom elements include a drying cupboard that pumps solar-heated hot water through a heat exchanger to quickly dry clothes. In a tip of the hat to a New Zealand cultural icon, the house uses recycled sheep's wool as insulation.
Such regional touches were everywhere in the contest, from the native plants in Maryland's rain garden to Purdue's solid Midwestern architectural style. Appalachian State University, which won the People's Choice Award for its Solar Homestead, mimics historic Appalachian settlements and includes updated lean-to sheds topped with bifacial photovoltaic panels.
CHIP, the 800-square-foot (74-square-meter) house built by the team from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) — an angular structure most notable for its outer walls of puffy white insulation — also complies with the Small Lot Ordinance zoning rules of Los Angeles.
This year's event unfolded as the Obama administration was under partisan fire for helping the now-bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra obtain $500 million in federally backed loans. Presiding over the 2011 Solar Decathlon award ceremony on October 2, U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu took the opportunity to defend government investments in renewable energy, cautioning that the United States could not afford to "fall behind" in the clean energy race.
The U.S. Energy Department's Solar Decathlon is no longer the only one. Europe celebrated its first decathlon last year in Madrid. And Richard Kin, director of the DOE's Solar Decathlon, says officials in Australia and South Africa are considering launching their own events.
Meanwhile, DOE officials have signed a memorandum of understanding with China's National Energy Administration to help the country launch the first Solar Decathlon China.
The Solar Decathlon is organized by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), a national laboratory of the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Private-sector sponsors for the 2011 contest included Dow Corning, Lowe's, M.C. Dean, Pepco, and Schneider Electric, among others.
Five of the contests in the 2011 Solar Decathlon were evaluated by juries. Architecture jury: Paul Hutton, Michelle Kaufmann, and Bob Schubert. Engineering jury: A. Hunter Fanney, William Rittelmann, and David A. Springer. Market appeal jury: Susan Aiello, Brad Beeson, and Joyce Mason. Communications jury: Ryan Dings, Mark Walhimer, and Stacy Wilson. Affordability contest officials: Matt Hansen and Ric Lacata.
The remaining contests were evaluated based on task completion or monitored performance. Home entertainment contest scores were based partly on evaluations by fellow competitors.
Christine MacDonald is the author of Green, Inc.: An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone Bad (Lyons Press, 2008). She lives in Washington, D.C., and has written for The Dallas Morning News, Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, and The Nation. More by Christine MacDonald
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