Team Germany Takes Lead In Solar Decathlon
Oct16

Team Germany Takes Lead In Solar Decathlon

A little village of sustainable squatters has sprouted like mushrooms on the National Mall in Washington, DC. Students from universities and educational consortia have assembled twenty one-bedroom, one-bathroom houses – each one an entry in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. The decathlon has brought a little solar town to the Mall every other year since 2002. As the name suggests, the structures are solar-powered and judged on ten aspects of sustainability and practicality. Students and faculty from departments of architecture and engineering collaborate on each project. This is the third time I (Melody Voith) have been able to attend, and each contest has drawn bigger crowds. On my visit, the wait to tour each home was at least 30 minutes – and this was a very educated crowd. I overheard debates about architectural influences, the relative sustainability of different countertop materials, the ins and outs of solar hot-water systems, and the benefits of “bifacial” solar panels – all from people waiting in line. Team Ontario/BC placed fourth, and theirs was one of three houses I toured. The house had wonderful floor-to-ceiling windows and a very modern interior. Automatic shades helped to control solar-heat gain in warm months, while allowing the winter sun to keep heating costs low. The rippled, textured ceiling looked like an art installation – its function was to spread light from a few light fixtures, keeping energy costs down. On the outside, the structure boasted building-integrated photovoltaics, and on the roof, a large PV array and solar thermal tubes to provide hot water and space heating. Although the contestants used new building technologies very creatively, many - if not most - of the features could be used in any new (or maybe even renovated) home. After all the judging and contest scoring, Technical University of Darmstadt's Team Germany took first place for the second competition in a row. "We didn't expect to win," team member and architecture student Angela Specht told me (Kenneth Moore). As third (California's Santa Clara University) and second (the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign team) places were announced at the awards ceremony this morning, Specht says, she thought TU Darmstadt's team was surely in fourth until the first place announcement was made. So, what makes a winning team? The fashionable thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide (CIGS) panels used as siding helped, along with the more efficient silicon solar panels on the roof. When I toured the house this morning, Team Germany had stored 394 kW but used only 227 kW through the competition. With so many cloudy, rainy, cold, and just generally icky days, that seems an impressive number - and it...

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