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By Karen Cilento — For three weeks in October 2009, 20 teams of college and university students will compete in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. The competition provides the teams with an opportunity to “design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house.” Organized in three stages, (building, moving to the solar village in the National Mall in Washington D.C., and the actual competition) the Solar Decathlon aims to raise awareness among the general public about renewable energy and energy efficiency, help solar energy technologies enter the marketplace faster, foster collaboration among students from different academic disciplines, and educate the student participants. “The Solar Decathlon brings attention to one of the biggest challenges we face-an ever-increasing need for energy. As an internationally recognized event, it offers powerful solutions-using energy more efficiently and using energy from renewable sources.”
Santa Clara University, known for their excellence in engineering/business got the third place at the 2007 competition, and for this year’s competition they teamed with CCA, dedicated to architecture, art and design, to create a 100 student team to participate in the Solar Decathlon. The team is the only undergraduate-led team participating in the competition (most are filled with Ph. D programs), combing “youth and process, [they] set the standard in green living”. The young team of future architects, engineers, construction managers, graphic designers and interior designers have created a proposal, entitled Refract House, that is dedicated to promoting the idea of “Living Light: harnessing sunlight to power our energy needs, lightening our carbon footprint upon the earth, and enlightening today’s consumers and the next generation of concerned, responsible citizens about the possibilities of sustainable living.” “We want the project to have a lasting impact as both a case study for green design and as an exhibit of technology. We already know it’s going to have an impact on all of us,” explained Allison Kopf, an SCU Engineering Physics student.
The Refract House, an 800 square foot zero energy home, breaks from “the classic hyper-efficient box shape” to prove that zero energy can occur with bold aesthetics. ”We propose a new precedent for energy efficient homes that prioritizes visual, spatial and functional connection with the surrounding environment. The bent form of the structure mimics the path of the sun of the sun from dawn to dusk. This speaks to the name Refract House, because we change the way light is used,” explained the team.
The team stressed their cutting edge solar thermal and photovoltaic system. The solar thermal array is comprised of plate type collectors that reduce heat loss. “By combining cutting edge technology in the home with our most abundant resource-the sun-we can start using our natural resources more intelligently, and we can show others how it is done,” explained Tim Sennott, an SCU Mechanical Engineering student.The lighting of the home maximizes the admittance of high quality sunlight “to create a stronger spatial connection to outdoors.”
An outdoor courtyard compliments the Californian ecosystem and climate, in addition to providing a smaller garden with edible plants. The home also features a grey-water treatment system, bamboo joists, and a storage pool, plus a monitor that displays energy and water consumption levels inside the home. All systems and sustainable design features were created by the students. Never mind their finishing place, we are impressed with the dedication and determination of this young team.