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Solar Decathletes Unite and Take Over

Posted By G Living Staff Monkies On November 6, 2007 @ 3:53 am In Architecture / Interior Design | No Comments

You don’t have to let go of the good life living on solar power. Heck, maybe life gets even better. At least the winners of this year’s Solar Decathlon from Darmstadt University (Technische Universität Darmstadt) in Germany sure make it appear that way. Their gorgeous prototype not only proved that they could create a home generated by solar power, but they also proved they could design a house more stylish than anything on recent magazine pages.

Twenty collegiate teams competed in the Solar Decathlon and all of them built attractive and energy-efficient solar powered homes, but Darmstadt University took the cake showcasing some of Germany’s best technology and developing a house for the local climate. The site for this year’s Solar Decathlon was again Washington D.C., so the house was designed for a humid and hot atmosphere.

A long line of onlookers waited to check out Darmstadt’s solar house best described as a flat roofed, glass cube wrapped in beautiful oak shutters. On the outside and from a distance, the house appeared relaxed, earthy, and very low tech. But in fact, when up close, the oak louvers were the solar panels equipped with photovoltaic cells, serving to generate electricity, as well as providing protection from overheating. To increase the efficiency, the shutters always move along with the sun’s angle.

Inside, the sheetrock of the home’s walls was infused with paraffin to absorb heat and liquefy during the day, and then release the heat and re-solidify at night. Also hidden from the outside, the house was filled with many awesome energy appliances donated by German companies like Bosch, who gave internships to two of the team members, making it easy for the students to study some of their systems providing climate control for the house.

All of the teams were going about their research in a similar way to Darmstadt, learning to raise capitol and gain resources throughout the process. They found many earth and solar-friendly companies that were delighted to sponsor their prototypes.

In the future, the mass production of a Darmstadt solar home should leave the occupant with almost unlimited freedom to adjust the house to the owner’s way of life, and the house should be able to be used all the year round in various types of weather. Future production should also retain the possibility of expanding the home by easily adding another module or floor. As far as adjusting the interior living space, further production would also follow the prototype, which currently contains furniture integrated into the home.

For example, the living room area and bed are integrated into a dent in the floor, which can be closed to accommodate a foldaway dining area. The only problem is that the foldaway furniture in the prototype is very nice. Do you really want to fold it away? Maybe in time the home can be made a little larger and for a little less money. Like all prototypes, the cost compared to that of something that will eventually go into production is high. Rumor has it that this house cost over one million to make and it’s only a cozy 800 square feet as per the contest rules.

Since this year’s Solar Decathlon has come down, the solar house will return to Germany. Once home, it will be used as a solar power plant as part of the Darmstadt University’s project of a Solar Campus through which all buildings on campus will be equipped with building-integrated photovoltaics, feeding electricity into the German power grid. Nice work. And at the same time, Solar Decathlon is already accepting proposals from new Decathletes for 2009.

Maybe the Decathlon rules for 2009 will be altered to incorporate sustainability AND affordability.


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