Solar House

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.

Standard PV panel

Thermal Solar Collector



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5 responses to “Solar House

  1. I remember when they shipped this thing to DC for the national eco-house competition[?]. They didn’t fare too well, unfortunately – maybe it’s because of the livability issue (as you said).

    Anyway, I’ve been meaning to get down to campus to take a look at it. Thanks for the reminder.

    Nice post.
    And nice template choice, btw – much easier on the eyes.

  2. justforview

    The explanation that I was given for their placement in the competition was based on the thermal collectors. I think the competition was supposed to use only PV panels.

  3. visualingual

    This was probably a stipulation in the competition guidelines, but I think this sort of holistic design makes it difficult for people to visualize their own lives in a home like this. I mean, what if you’re into contemporary technology but not contemporary design? What if you don’t want banquette seating? What if you have your own furniture? Where you put your art?

    I don’t see this prototype as livable, necessarily; its aesthetic seems heavy-handed to me. I think the”total design” approach of all the Case Study and Case Study-type houses runs of the risk of unnecessarily alienating people. A smarter strategy to prove how well you could live with the technology would be to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to dictate your aesthetic, no?

  4. justforview

    I agree. But if you are going to build a prototype you will fall into some aesthetic or another, no?

  5. visualingual

    You’re absolutely right. I just think that a more conventional interior would make it easier for people to visualize how a house might become their home. It wouldn’t call so much attention to itself. The high-tech aesthetic of the interior can be off-putting to people, when the main point [I think?] is to pitch the technology itself.

    Similarly, “green” fashion used to have this fuddy-duddy, hippie look [and a reputation for the look], until designers took hemp, unbleached or naturally dyed textiles, or what have you, and made them sexy, sporty, professional, etc., to show that anyone can have these values and wear these clothes, without them dictating a specific aesthetic.

    My criticism actually runs counter to my personal philosophy, but isn’t the point of the Solar Decathlon to show a livable application of this technology? A more conventional interior would make the project seem more livable.

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