UT Austin Enters Third Solar Decathlon Students at the University of Texas at Austin have a unique opportunity to design, fabricate and test the possibilities of combining renewable energy and contemporary dwelling design through their participation in the Solar Decathlon house competition. The program began in 2000, and UT students have participated in each of the three events that have taken place since then. [Texas A&M returns to the competition with its second entry. See p. 19 in the July/Aug. TA.] The Solar Decathlon is organized by the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, who challenge university teams to design and build an 800-square-foot, completely solar-powered house on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and to test the house over a 20-day period of operation. Teams vie in contests focusing on ingenuity, energy production, energy efficiency, design, and thermal comfort. The Solar Decathlon calls for the design to appeal to the average lifestyle of the general public and to support all the power needs of a typical household, including lighting, cooking, cleaning, telecommunications, and a computer for home/office use. An electric “car” also must be charged from the photovoltaic system. The students’ design innovations and technical integrations serve as catalysts for change, leading the residential housing industry toward more sustainable practices while addressing new demands for contemporary, flexible, affordable, and environmentally responsible housing. Through the integration of solar power, the projects offer homeowners the means to move from being energy consumers to becoming energy producers. In reviewing the past contests as design process and building practice, it is apparent that the challenges and possibilities of the Solar Decathlon competition are not solely limited to questions of renewable energy. In fact, logistics, material assemblies, inhabitation, building code integration and education become driving concerns that focus the Solar Decathlon houses around broader questions of interdisciplinary collaboration and sustainability as an environmental, technical and social practice. By blending design questions with logistical questions and performance questions with social questions, the competition ultimately turns a design challenge into a building process based upon principles of collaboration—between
Photos courtesy UT Austin School of Architecture
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UT Austin’s entry in the 2007 Solar Decathlon will be trucked to Washington, D.C., and installed on the National Mall for 20 days in October. Twenty schools, including two from Texas, are competing this year.
disciplines, between aesthetics and technology, between building and climate, and between ecology and economics.
The UT Solar Decathlon team’s investigations suggest that progressive technologies offer solutions to the serious emerging challenges of energy efficiency and sustainable development, and thereby become a strong design-shaping force. These progressive technologies integrate photovoltaic systems, passive solar heating, solar-induced ventilation, daylighting, water-use efficiency, regenerative waste management, “smart” energy management systems, and other low-entropy
open building systems that contribute to “green” architecture. The study of building systems also includes the principles, conventions, standards, applications, and restrictions associated with the manufacture and use of existing and emerging construction materials and assemblies and their effect on the environment. The rules for the 2007 Solar Decathlon competition added “market viability” as another part of the contests. Jurors must now assess how well and easily the house can be brought to continued on page 96
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