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The NORTHern Sun Hits The Mall

October 11th, 2009 · No Comments

Solar innovation has come to The National Mall from the north as part of the 2009 Solar Decathlon, with two Canadian teams out of the 20 energy efficient solar powered homes. Team Ontario/BC took their geography to heat, forming Team North to North House to Washington, DC.

Considering where they come from, no surprise that North House is sealed tight with R-60 insulation. Yet, their effort was complicated by the need to design for cold (let us say, extremely cold) winters and hot & humid summers. Coming from the north also creates another challenge: rooftop solar would have little value for much of the year, which led to putting solar photovolaic (PV) panels mounted vertically on the south, east, and west sides.

Now you see it, now you don't ... Are you ready to play wheres the bed?

Now you see it, now you don't ... Are you ready to play 'where's the bed'?

There are several design and technical items of particular interest, at first glance.

When it comes to the challenges of designing a livable, attractive space within The Solar Decathlon’s restrictions, Team North chose to make the furniture go away when not in use. The office furniture folds away into the wall. The bed retracts into the ceiling.  This enabled them to create an open, airy space that adapts to requirements throughout the day and throughout the occupants’ lives.

When it comes to technology, as with several other houses, Team North incorporated automated external ‘Venetian Blind’-like shades to maximize light gain while minimizing solar heat gain on hot days. While reportedly on the market (used) in Scanadavia for several years, life experience with Venetian blinds creates an innate caution: What happens in high winds? What happens if sticks or leaves get caught in the blind system?

The vertical solar pv give a good example of sometimes unexpected challenges faced not just by Decathletes, but by any builder seeking to ‘push the envelope’. The “PROSOL BIPV” were developed in Europe and as of just a few days ago were not certified for the United States even though designed for and passing the tough European standards with flying colors. The normal 90 day review system was squeezed into a month and the panels were approved for hooking up to the grid via the net metering system with, it seems to Team North, just moments to spare before the actual competition began.

Control North House systems through a web interface -- at home and abroad.

Control North House systems through a web interface -- at home and abroad.

One of the exciting developments at The Solar Decathlon is the range of feedback and control systems that the teams have created and incorporated into their home’s operations. Team North has a web application, which provides not just direct information on house performance (such as home much money earned from sending (selling) electricity back into the grid and house water usage), but also provides “tips” to the users, such as:

“Your hot water consumes more electricity in one day than your lights in one month. Reducing shower times can decrease your overall electrical use, and save you money.”

As well, the system looks structured to enable comparative groupings — see how your neighbors, your friends, your rivals are doing.  Providing feedback benchmarking neighbors against each other has been shown to be one of the effective paths for fostering greater efficiency.  Oh, by the way, it seems that Apple has some tremendous branding going on with The Solar Decathlon, even without putting their money in. Adaptive Living Interface System (ALIS) also has an iPhone interface.

Combining leading edge energy efficiency, renewable energy production, with innovative design.

NOTE: To date, amid their excellent web site, Team North’s blog is the best that I’ve encountered. Substantive information, lots of photos.

Additional posts on the 2009 Solar Decathlon:

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