Earlier this week in honor of earth day UC had tours of their Solar Decathlon House. Designed and built for a international competition of 20 universities the house is a prototype of what available technology, if applied to residential design and construction, could yield.
The house is really pretty interesting. I am not crazy about the design, though I heard many say that it seemed totally livable. I know little about the specifics of housing systems and particularly more advanced alternatives, so it was cool to learn about them. From my understanding solar power is typically captured by photovoltaic collectors (PV), which this house uses for electric needs. Perhaps more interestingly it uses solar thermal collectors for the bulk of the energy demand. These are more efficient and less expensive. They produce hot water which can be used for all the thermal needs of the house including heat and hot water and with the additional of an absorption chiller, also air cooling. I believe the thermal collector can also generate electricity through steam, but I’ll leave that to the experts.
On a good day the house produces more than enough energy to power it’s systems and this surplus can be stored in batteries, or if it is tied to the grid it can sell energy during the day when it is expensive and buy it back at night when it is cheaper.
If you are interested, and you should be, I encourage you to check it out at the link above. The tours where all day Monday and Tuesday, but they will likely have more over the next few months. But yo that the house sits on the main campus. I’ll try to post when upcoming tours will be in the future.
Thermal Solar Collector