2013 Solar Decathlon competition

U of I students who will be competing in the solar decathlon standing in front of PV panels. (Photo provided)

By Drs. Robert & Sonia Vogl
President and Vice President, Illinois Renewable Energy Association

In a recent telephone conversation with Kevin Donovan, we asked why the students and professors from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign were coming to visit the Kickapoo Center and the home of Victor and Polly Zaderej in Oregon, Ill. As the current project manager of next year’s Solar Decathlon competition, Donovan indicated the buildings contained many features important for students to consider in designing and building energy-efficient homes.

The buildings include very high levels of insulation in the floors, foundations, walls and ceilings. Both buildings are illuminated by LED lights. Both utilize solar heat collected beneath south-facing metal roofs while the solar home includes a two-story, south-facing wall of glass that provides additional heat.

The Kickapoo Center features an earth tube while the Zaderej home has an earth room. Both of these features supply air at ground temperatures around 55 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.

The Zaderej home includes a wind generator and a PV system with battery storage. The Kickapoo Center includes a planting of native vegetation adapted to the northern Illinois climate.

The Solar Decathlon started as a biannual event in 2002 in the United States. Students from the University Illinois built solar homes in 2007, 2009 and 2011.

For next year’s competition, the University of Illinois is collaborating with Peking University in designing and constructing the China Solar Decathlon’s showcase house. Students from various colleges in each respective university have come together to represent their universities in the competition in August 2013.

In May 2012, the Illinois team and representatives from the other universities around the world who have entered the competition met in Beijing to learn more of the details of the competition. They also traveled to Datong, China, to visit the site where the buildings will be assembled. The visit familarized them with the site and gave them a chance to interact with Chinese students. Next summer, the Illinois team will join with the Peking team to build the home that is being designed.

The main purpose of the team effort is to stimulate energy-efficient home design in China and the rest of the world. By taking the initial steps to create model homes, it is expected that homes built on similar principles will be attractive to young families educated at the university level who understand the necessity of being energy efficient and who will educate others by their willingness to live in these nontraditional homes. By blending historical Chinese elements in modern designs and smart technologies, the teams expect the homes will be very appealing to young couples.

In August 2013, each school in the competition will transport their home to Datong, China, and assemble it there. Each home “will be judged on its performance in 10 categories: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance.”

It is the intent of the University of Illinois to continue to participate in the Solar Decathlon competition. To support that effort, the university has established an official Solar Decathlon RSO. Chris Cirone, who was the project engineer for the 2011 home, will serve as president for 2012-2013. To follow the project, visit http://solardecathlon.illinois.edu/design/architecture.

The Kickapoo Center and the Zaderej home will be included in this year’s solar tours for those interested in seeing them.

This educational program is reaching an audience that will be making major energy decisions in their future careers.

Drs. Robert and Sonia Vogl are founders and officers of the Illinois Renewable Energy Association (IREA) and coordinate the annual Renewable Energy and Sustainable Lifestyle Fair. E-mail sonia@essex1.com.

From the Sept. 19-25, 2012, issue

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