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  • Villa Solar Set for June in Madrid

Dec 2009
Anne L. Fischer,

At a time when several European countries are proposing cuts to feed-in tariffs, known in the past as a great motivator for the solar industry, cutting-edge research and innovation in sustainable development and renewable energy are ramping up for a showcase at the Solar Decathlon Europe, which will take place in Madrid. The Solar Decathlon, jointly sponsored by the Spanish Ministry of Housing and the US Department of Energy (DoE), is a competition in which university teams from Europe, America and Asia design and build solar homes that vie for the grand prize of €100,000.

The goal is to construct a 75-sq-m house that relies solely on the sun’s energy, has appealing and adequate lighting and is fully livable – with appliances for cooking and cleaning. The houses are given points in 10 areas that fall into five categories: architecture, solar, comfort, social and economic, and strategic.

To get the full effect, lighting design is judged at night. Here Team Spain’s solar house glows at the Solar Decathlon held October 2009 on the National Mall in Washington (Photo courtesy of Stefano Paltera/US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon).

According to Sergio Vega, project manager for Solar Decathlon Europe 2010, the greatest surprise so far has been the number of interested participants, with teams coming from four continents and nine countries to assemble “Villa Solar” on a site 30,000 sq m on the banks of the River Manzanares. The European decathlon is similar to the American solar decathlon, which was launched in 2002 by the DoE and which is held every other year on the National Mall in Washington. The aim is to share knowledge of renewable energy; to that end, the Spanish and American governments agreed this year to launch the European version of the competition.

Teams that enter the competition are made up of students from a broad range of academic disciplines, including engineering, architecture, urban design and transportation. They use their classroom knowledge to run energy consumption simulations, design lighting, configure multiuse interior spaces, build furniture and communicate through their team Web site.

Each entry has a name. The Armadillo is the house built by the Ecole Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Grenoble in partnership with two other French schools (Institut de L’Energie Solaire and Grands Ateliers de I’Isle d’Abeau). The name was chosen because the design of the house is similar to the armor on an armadillo, with a protective shield on the outside that houses the energy collectors. Just as the armadillo’s outer shield protects the animal, the home’s shield protects the underlying thermal envelope.

At Grands Ateliers de I’Isle d’Abeau in France, students work on sections of the design of the Armadillo house.

In many cases, the names are as clever and unique as the designs. The University of Nottingham’s house is called, well, H.O.U.S.E., which stands for Home Optimizing the Use of Solar Energy. This two-level home was designed for a family, with walls transformed into storage units. A house called the Eclipse, from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, is one of two entries from US-based universities. It uses the concept of “responsive architecture,” with a climate controller accessed through an iPhone interface.

Completing a project for the Solar Decathlon requires cooperation and coordination of students and faculty as well as numerous financial, material and logistical sponsors. Students involved with the Solar Decathlon learn about designing affordable houses that are not only energy-efficient but also adaptable to various climates. The general public is encouraged to view the homes in Villa Solar to gain awareness of the technologies that are available to reduce energy consumption.

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