While members of Congress are raising h-ll about the Solyndra bankruptcy along with many who are forgetting that they once touted Solyndra as the future, just a little distance away, Solyndra technology is powering an absolutely gorgeous home available for public visit for the coming two weeks.
This house, the University of Tennessee's Living Light, is part of one of the nation's most important (and sadly too little discussed) intercollegiate competitions that is about to open in Washington, D.C.: the biennial Solar Decathlon. Opening to the public 23 September, the Decathlon brings together 19 university teams from around the globe to compete across ten categories (thus, "decathlon"). After having reviewed all the Solar Decathlon entries, this post will look more closely at Living Light.
Living Light is a very high-quality efficiency house whose form is inspired by the cantilever barns of southern Appalachia. In terms of actual living space, this is one of the smallest (if not smallest) homes because of the team's intent: they will take Living Light on a tour throughout Tennessee, showing the reality of the promise of solar technology. Thus, this is designed to be easily transported with the direct living space transported on one truck and additional transport for elements like decks and spare solar tubes. Along with more solar electricity capacity than required to meet the house's actual needs (and thus power production that will help boost competitive positioning re electricity production), this design element helped push up the unit's price.
This design has many notable features. In terms of interior design space, my family loves the quality of finish and my children, on seeing the video's discussion of how the kitchen and other elements can be masked (see below) separately exclaimed "Mom would love that." Walking into Living Light, the quality of finish jumped out... the cabinetry was well designed, beautiful wood and extremely well executed. The bed pulls out, kitchen gets covered, etc. with an ease that comes with great workmanship. Combining the designed focus on easy transportability for showcasing solar power and seeing that quality, it didn't surprise me that Living Light was the first Decathlete house to pass its inspections and be certified for public visits.
In terms of technology, Living Light stands out for its smart facade. Living Light's North-South walls are a dynamic double façade system made of alternating translucent and transparent panes and horizontal blinds. These work automatically with an energy recovery system to cool in summer and heat in the winter with great efficiency:
A motorized horizontal blind system which blocks solar radiation/sunlight before it reaches the conditioned space. The blind system will be programmed to provide proper lighting and shading throughout the year. It also provides privacy when desired. Heat that is harvested within the double façade system will be directed to an energy recovery ventilator, supplying the home with preheated air. When the outside temperature and humidity are acceptable, the operable panels allow outside air into the house. The outer pane of glass also reduces the wind load on the house thus reducing unwanted infiltration and allowing the blinds to be deployed under any weather condition.
Not highlighted is a truly desirable feature. When I visited the house, the neighboring area was filled with noise as the teams rushed to finish their homes. Inside Living Light, almost total silence with no sounds intruding on conversation with UT team members.
As with Penn State's 2009 Decathlon entry, Natural Fusion, the 2011 University of Tennessee team chose to use Solyndra solar electricity tubes as their solar power generation system. The Solyndra tubes remain a truly innovative approach to electricity production, enabling capturing sunlight across a 360° surface and converting it to electricity. Thus, even indirect and reflected light become meaningful for the home's power production.
While the University of Tennessee team almost certainly wishes to receive attention for other reasons, Living Light's deployment of Solyndra tubes demonstrates, in a quite tangible level amid the Solyndra 'scandal', that this technology works effectively to produce power even as business condition changes (mainly due to massive PRC investments in solar technology production) have driven the company out of the market.
Understanding the planned showcasing of Living Light across Tennessee, the price issue creates a fundamental challenge. This is an efficiency; an extremely attractive, very well finished with innovative technology efficiency. Considering the estimated $400,000 price tag before considering land/such costs, I have a hard time seeing the market position for this house. Yet, that might represent my limitations and difficulties in embracing the team's vision: to "challenge the way we think about a traditional home, adopting a loft like space in a stand-alone home."
Related: See the UT Zero site.
- Bright Rays of Sunshine Hit DC: A preview of The Solar Decathlon Provides an overview of each of the 19 teams.
- A CHIP Shot at a Better Future? discussing the SCI-ARCH/CALTECH 2011 entry.
- German Solar Rides Power Surge to a Win which discusses the winning home, structure of the Decathlon scoring that enabled them to win, and thoughts about how to move forward.
- A Solar Decathlon Cheat Sheet (overview of the 20 homes and links to home web sites)
- The NORTHern Sun Hits The Mall
- A corner of The National Mall is s•ky blue
- Showing some CURIOsity at The Mall
- Cash is Green
- A Napa Valley Vision on The National Mall
- An ICON-ic statement about a better future
- An Illuminating Vision for Pavilion Living: VT's Lumenhaus
- Penn State's Natural Fusion
- Something old, Something New: A Gable on the Mall