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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lawrence Tech Students Reach For Sun Power

WASHINGTON DC - Lawrence Tech students and recent graduates participating in the Solar Decathlon in the nation's capital this week are one of 20 university teams – as well as Germany, Spain, Canada and Puerto Rico – that have accepted the challenge to design and build houses that convert sunlight into enough energy to meet all the needs of a household. These houses must be completely self-sufficient and off the grid.

The 20 teams have come together on the National Mall to share their best ideas for reducing the energy consumption of residential housing, which accounts for about one-sixth of country’s energy use, according to the Department of Energy.

The solar village opened to the public on Oct. 12 and more than 100,000 people are expected to view the homes by the time it closes on Saturday. The results of the Solar Decathlon competition will be announced on Friday.

These university teams are competing in 10 events that test how successful their houses are in producing and conserving energy while also convincing the public that solar energy is a realistic option for residential use. It is not enough to achieve energy self-sufficiency -- these teams have to create a house that consumers will want to buy and live in.

“We want our house to be a stage for educating homebuyers about the possibilities for dramatically decreasing the carbon footprint of their homes,” said team member Christina Span, who graduated from Lawrence Tech in May with a degree in architecture. “Making homes more energy-efficient is the single biggest thing we can do as a country to reduce our country’s energy consumption and reliance on foreign oil.”

Taken together, these 20 houses represent many of the best ideas for changing America’s perception of housing. The structures demonstrate how pleasant it can be to live in a relatively small but well-designed space. The contest requires houses to be 800 square feet or less, and in most of the houses the actual living space is well under 700 square feet.

These teams employ a variety of strategies for heating, cooling and ventilating so that the house’s energy demands can be met by solar panels and evacuated tubes incorporated into the architectural design. The Lawrence Tech house has a battery system that can store enough electricity for three days of normal household use.

The houses are constructed with building materials and technologies readily available to the public, and the houses will be judged on affordability.

“This is not the house of the future. It is the house of now,” said Philip Plowright, the faculty advisor for the Lawrence Tech team. “We are using well-vetted products and technology, and the focus has been on keeping it simple. As a team, we made a conscious decision not to go for the wow factor.”

The house plans will be made available to the public by the Department of Energy, which contributed $100,000 to each team.

Of course, all of these houses cost a great deal because they are designed and built from scratch and had to be taken down, transported to Washington and then reconstructed in less than two weeks. The price tag for Lawrence Tech will be in excess of $600,000, and the project was made possible by generous donations from sponsors and alumni.

But the payback could be priceless. The United States and other countries stand at a crossroads – global warming and rising oil prices require a major shift in how we think about energy consumption in our daily lives. These students have the opportunity to help lead the way to that new way of thinking.

This common goal has resulted in an uncommon spirit of cooperation on the National Mall. The teams have freely shared tools and supplies with their competitors. They take pride in the inventiveness of the other teams and the impressive array of solutions they have come up with as a group.

Different climate conditions require different approaches. Lawrence Tech and the teams from Montreal and Germany are more concerned with heating, while teams from Spain, Puerto Rico and the University of Texas are more concerned about cooling. Most of the teams make extensive use of natural ventilation techniques to reduce energy consumption during intermediate periods.

For information about Lawrence Tech’s Team ALOeTERRA, Solar.LTU.Edu

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Author: Staff Writer
Source: MITechNews.Com


 
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