Home Energy and Environment Solyndra’s DC Showcase … at The Solar Decathlon

Solyndra’s DC Showcase … at The Solar Decathlon

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(Thanks for this diary. Also check out Solyndra Shakeout Seen as a Sign of Success for Wider Solar Market. As usual, the media and right-wing politicians are totally wrong. – promoted by lowkell)

While Assembly team with the complete Living Light house 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, Solandra 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 is about to open in Washington, DC: 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 There she blows! Living Light has arrived!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, the Bathroom Sinkmy 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 summer 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 solar array overhangThe Solyndra tubes remain a truly innovative approach to electricity production, enabling capturing sunlight across a 360° surface and convert 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.

Posts on 2011 Solar Decathlon:

Posts on 2009 Solar Decathlon:

Discussions of houses

Overview of Decathlon / policy / framing / discussion

  • relawson

    Big fan of solar (pv and heat) power.  This is one of the few investments we can make now that will enhance our lives for generations to come.

    The home showcased reminds me of Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs common in Florida.  My only concern would be the flat roof; the flat roof designs had a much higher degree of problems once the home aged and isn’t appropriate for all climates.

    Wright’s homes were made for a generation or two to LIVE in and it was all about feeling one with your surroundings (not feeling boxed in).

    If the home could last 100+ years and were affordable, I think it would do very well.  Unfortunately we’ve become accustomed to our McMansions so this house would feel small to most people with children.  Would make a great home for two-person households.

    For the size of the roof, I think you could get more than a 9Kv system – but with energy efficient appliances, good insulation, and the “smart” heating and cooling approach that may be enough power.  Throw in the electronics we all have come to love and it may need to have a tie into the grid.  I didn’t see – but was it grid tie?

  • Quizzical

    Forbes has run a large number of good articles about Solyndra.  As I understand it, Solyndra went bankrupt because the Chinese government poured $30 billion into Chinese solar cell manufacturing companies, and completely undercut the market.  Solyndra was the victim of state-sponsored predatory, unfair trade practices.  Business analysts say that Solyndra should have anticipated that prices would drop, that prices were already dropping, and that Solyndra misrepresented its position in financial statements.

    All that aside, if the Solyndra product is superior technology, as the above diary suggests, why abandon it?  Maybe the right thing to do is bring the Solyndra costs down too.

    Are we going to abandon every sector of manufacturing to the Chinese?