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Showing some CURIOsity at The Mall

October 10th, 2009 · 3 Comments

Thronging The National Mall at this time are thousands of curious people, visiting the Solar Decathlon with the 20 energy efficient solar powered homes, being awed by their designs, their technologies, and their visions for the future.  Team Boston has centered their entire project around that very sense of curiosity, with CURIO House having as its core motto: “live curious”.  While the House has incorporated a number of leading edge technologies and approaches, the true center of effort might actually be a question:  How to design a home, a sustainable home, that will interact with its occupants to foster a changed relationship not just with their dwelling, but the overall interaction of humanity with our planetary system.

According to team members, this evolved somewhat from interactions on during the 2007 Solar Decathlon, where people asked “what can I do now?” and there was a feeling that too much of what was being shown was leading edge technology, not ready to move from the laboratory to store shelves.  Thus, a question Team Boston considered: “What can you do in your home?”

A session at the Biomimicry Institute occurred ealy in the process, helping to evolve these questions with “How is it possible to evolve the home as a whole, including the person?”

With all of this in mind, Team Boston sought to maximize (and simplify) feedback systems as a tool for engaging the occupants as a partner in managing the home sustainably while developing flexible controls so that each CURIO house would evolve to meet the personalities, requirements, and desires of that home.

When it comes to feedback, CURIO House provides it in a variety of forms and, where appropriate, benchmarks CURIO House against ‘normal’ usage. Thus, you can get realtime and look-back ifeedback about appliance use, the pv system’s performance, HVAC, and other key building attributes.

It seems that Apple is the company which receives the greatest publicity during the Solar Decathlon without significant sponsorship as CURIO House is yet another team which uses an iPhone as part of its feedback and control system.

In addition to their control systems, ‘windows’ from Hunter Douglas‘ LAMTEC research arm provide the most leading edge CURIO House system, something that could truly help change building energy efficiency. Right now, windows are often the bane of energy efficient homes. Desirable for lighting and (winter) passive solar heat gain, insulation values of even the most efficient windows generally available are nothing compared to decent wall insulation.  The Lamtec windows, potentially about 18 months from the market according to the designers on scene with the CURIO House, flip equation and make discussing “R values” potentially meaningless and likely misleading. The windows are, in fact, essentially Trome Walls, absorbing solar heat during the day to be then slowly released in the coming hours.  According to the technical representatives, testing during the last winter in three Boston-area houses they use for research showed a massive advantage for these windows, keeping the houses above 60 degrees even on the coldest days without any other heating source. And, overall, it took a fraction of the energy to keep the house ‘comfortable’ when compared to even the most efficient windows available on the market. To be able to apply, more or less anywhere that has heating requirements, windows as a contributor to the heating, increasing the available daylighting while contributing to heating energy efficiency, is an attractive opportunity.

The control systems, of course, interact with these windows — putting down external blinds, automatically, to shade the windows to reduce (eliminate) undesired heat gain during, for example, summer months.

Team Boston is another team that has focused on affordability, as can be seen with its 6.4 kilowatt photovoltaic system, which is in the lower end of this Solar Decathlon’s entrants. CURIO House’s PV panels each have a micro-inverter, rather than one large, shared inverter. This design provides more flexibility for expansion and gives a path toward ‘graceful degradation’ as inverter failure won’t shut off all the pv panels production.

A thing of beauty …

Solar Decathlon entrants often excel at finding ways to make the practical beautiful. CURIO House has a tremendous copper sculpture fountain which is part of the rainwater drainage system from the roof.

The making of CURIO

Constructing Curio from Arlin Ladue on Vimeo.

Additional posts on the 2009 Solar Decathlon:

Tags: Energy · Solar Energy · department of energy · energy cool · solar · solar decathlon

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