Virginia Tech manages slim victory at Europe Solar Decathlon

| by John Johnson
Virginia Tech manages slim victory at Europe Solar Decathlon

The first-ever Solar Decathlon in Europe featured solar-powered homes from around the globe and a finish that will be talked about for years. Students from Virginia Tech captured the prestigious event, besting 17 other entries from around the world by a single point. When the final judging concluded, Virginia Tech won by the slimmest of margins, taking a one-point (811-810) victory.

The winner of the 10-day competition held in Madrid, Spain was announced on June 29. Virginia Tech’s Lumenhaus held a comfortable lead after the first few days of the event, tying for first in architecture, and placing second in the communication and social awareness categories. However, what looked like a runaway turned into a close battle as VT’s lead dwindled in the remaining few days of the competition. After falling out of first place briefly, the school just managed to outlast the University of Applied Sciences from Rosenheim, Germany, which finished second.

"We knew we had a strong house and we built up a very strong lead in the beginning and throughout the week we did everything we could to hold onto it," said Joe Wheeler, the lead faculty advisor and an associate professor of architecture at Virginia Tech’s School of Architecture + Design. "We were competing against some very strong competition from Germany. The difference between our house and the German entries was that our house presented more ideas and more vision as far as integration of green building controls in the future and what people can expect."

In the end, the extreme hot weather in Madrid during the contest benefitted the Virginia Tech entry, which relies on both passive and active systems and was able to keep the house cool, even as visitors passed in and out during house tours.

The Europe Solar Decathlon is modeled on the biennial U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. In these events, universities compete to design and build a self-sufficient house using solar power as the only source of energy. Virginia Tech and the University of Florida were the only U.S. entries in the competition, which featured solar homes from seven countries and three continents. More than 190,000 people visited the homes while on display at the event. Among the visitors was the Spanish Ministry of Housing and Prince Felipe of Spain.

The 17 competing houses proved that the benefits of solar are clearly a tangible reality. During the 10 days of the competition, the Villa Solar produced almost three times as much energy as it consumed. According to the event’s web site, while 6,177.5 kWh were produced, the energy consumed was only 2,579.2 kWh. The surplus energy was transferred to the grid and was consumed by residents of the area where the houses were located.

Designed according to the concept of "responsive architecture," the Lumenhaus responds to climate changes like weather and user requirements by utilizing the simplicity of an iPhone interface. The home, which was built on the Blacksburg campus and then shipped to Madrid, was judged in 10 different categories.

According to Susan Steeves, media relations manager at Virginia Tech, the solar house began its journey from the VT campus in Blacksburg on April 27. After being trucked from campus to the harbor in Baltimore, Md., Lumenhaus required two ships to reach Bilbao, Spain, and another truck to get to Madrid. The house arrived in the Spanish capital on June 7, allowing the VT team about 10 days to put it back together for the competition. The total cost to transport the home was $180.000.

"We were successful over a number of first-rate, world-class work under teams with excellent resources and expertise," said Robert Dunay, a professor in the College of Architecture and Urban Studies and one of the faculty leaders on the project.

Sign ups for the 2012 Europe Solar Decathlon are already underway.

Topics: Building Green, Energy Audits, Heating & Cooling, Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Solar Power

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