energy production data

University of Utah student technology illuminates impacts of solar power

energy production dataThe University of Utah unveiled student-made technology Monday that university students and officials hope will open eyes to the potential of solar power and other renewable energy systems.

While celebrating the university’s solar system installed last year, University of Utah graduate Tom Melburn introduced the final product of a project he has spearheaded since 2011 to create a tool that sheds light on the energy-saving impacts and environmental benefits of solar power, which he said will hopefully inspire others to adopt more sustainable practices and attitudes.

“The cost benefit of installing solar panels on the short-term may not make the most economic sense, but it does on the long-term,” Melburn said. “So (this tool) should ultimately make it more desirable for people to adopt renewable, sustainable energy.”


solar decathalon

Raise the (Solar) Roof: Students Building Solar-Powered Home

solar decathalon
This rendering of the solar-powered home shows what the Solar Decathlon team plans to build. The home features two 400-square-foot modules and a central connector.
Flip a light switch, turn on the TV or open the refrigerator — you probably don’t think twice about the electricity powering your home.

A team of UT Austin students, on the other hand, has spent two years imagining how to power our homes and keep our day-to-day lives running on light from the sun. They’re building a solar-powered house this spring, which they’ll ship to California for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition in October.

The UT team, partnering with the Technische Universität München (TUM) in Germany, was one of 20 selected for the competition out of more than 150 teams that applied. Judges will score 10 different contests as part of the competition, from architecture and engineering to the performance of home appliances, affordability and how well the teams market and promote the solar-powered homes.


Sweetwater Schools Make Major Commitment to Solar Power

520-SunPower-Solar-PlanelsThe Sweetwater Union High School District in Chula Vista announced installation of solar power systems at 21 schools that will offset 60 percent of normal electricity demand.

San Jose-based SunPower Corp. installed solar shade structures in school parking lots, taking advantage of underutilized space and providing needed shade.

One ground-mounted system was installed at Mar Vista Middle School in San Diego, and a rooftop system was installed at Hilltop High School in Chula Vista.

“With proven, reliable SunPower technology, we are generating savings that the Sweetwater Union High School District can use to support our academic and enrichment programs,” said Dr. Tim Glover, interim superintendent of SUHSD. “We’re also supporting the development of more solar power installations in our region. It is the right thing to do for our students and our community.”



Who Started the Solar Decathlon? Richard King

2009 Solar DecathlonHave you thought about how the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon got started? Who was the first person to want to have a student competition that demonstrates the use of solar rooftop systems? According to Solar Decathlon, it began with Richard King. In 1999 he had been working at the Department of Energy for 10 years conducting research on solar photovoltaic systems. He says they had developed highly reliable solar panels, but few people trusted them or thought they looked appealing on rooftops, and because the market barriers had a lot to do with perception and lack of knowledge, he turned his attention to education.

How can we educate more homeowners, and how can we design and build beautiful, appealing solar houses that people would want to live in? –Richard King.

He came up with the idea of a competition in the year 2000 and the first Solar Decathlon was held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in 2002, with fourteen student built homes and thousands of visitors.

You can make a difference, was the message of Solar Decathlon Director Richard King in his September 19, TEDxOrangeCoast talk about the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, reports Carol Laurie for Solar Decathlon.

Titled “Energy to Live By,” King’s 11-minute talk at the TEDxOrangeCoast Annual Conference in Aliso Viejo, California, introduced the audience to the Solar Decathlon and the powerful impact this award-winning competition has on participating students and visitors.

Throughout his talk, King stressed how important each individual is to reducing the world’s energy use.

As individuals, we are responsible for 100% of the energy we use in our daily lives. Did it ever occur to you that, as individuals collectively responsible for half of the world’s energy, you have a lot of power? I’m not talking about energy or brain power. I am talking about the kind of power that can change the world. Think about that the next time you flip a switch. –Richard King

Representatives from the City of Irvine, California, nominated King for consideration by the TEDxOrangeCoast organizers.

Being invited to give a TED talk is very special, and I was honored by the City of Irvine’s nomination. It’s also a very exhilarating experience. All of the speakers during this conference were outstanding, having done something significant in their lives. –Richard King.

King also invited the audience to visit Solar Decathlon 2015, which will be held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, October 8 through 18.

You can check out the concepts for the student’s net zero houses on the 2015 team pages.



New solar power material converts 90 percent of captured light into heat


A multidisciplinary engineering team at the University of California, San Diego developed a new nanoparticle-based material for concentrating solar power plants designed to absorb and convert to heat more than 90 percent of the sunlight it captures. The new material can also withstand temperatures greater than 700 degrees Celsius and survive many years outdoors in spite of exposure to air and humidity. Their work, funded by the U.S. Department of Energy’s SunShot program, was published recently in two separate articles in the journal Nano Energy.

By contrast, current solar absorber material functions at lower temperatures and needs to be overhauled almost every year for high temperature operations

“We wanted to create a material that absorbs sunlight that doesn’t let any of it escape. We want the black hole of sunlight,” said Sungho Jin, a professor in the department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering. Jin, along with professor Zhaowei Liu of the department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Mechanical Engineering professor Renkun Chen, developed the Silicon boride-coated nanoshell material. They are all experts in functional materials engineering.

The novel material features a “multiscale” surface created by using particles of many sizes ranging from 10 nanometers to 10 micrometers. The multiscale structures can trap and absorb light which contributes to the material’s high efficiency when operated at higher temperatures.

Concentrating solar power (CSP) is an emerging alternative clean energy market that produces approximately 3.5 gigawatts worth of power at power plants around the globe — enough to power more than 2 million homes, with additional construction in progress to provide as much as 20 gigawatts of power in coming years. One of the technology’s attractions is that it can be used to retrofit existing power plants that use coal or fossil fuels because it uses the same process to generate electricity from steam.

Traditional power plants burn coal or fossil fuels to create heat that evaporates water into steam. The steam turns a giant turbine that generates electricity from spinning magnets and conductor wire coils. CSP power plants create the steam needed to turn the turbine by using sunlight to heat molten salt. The molten salt can also be stored in thermal storage tanks overnight where it can continue to generate steam and electricity, 24 hours a day if desired, a significant advantage over photovoltaic systems that stop producing energy with the sunset.

One of the most common types of CSP systems uses more than 100,000 reflective mirrors to aim sunlight at a tower that has been spray painted with a light absorbing black paint material. The material is designed to maximize sun light absorption and minimize the loss of light that would naturally emit from the surface in the form of infrared radiation.

The UC San Diego team’s combined expertise was used to develop, optimize and characterize a new material for this type of system over the past three years. Researchers included a group of UC San Diego graduate students in materials science and engineering, Justin Taekyoung Kim, Bryan VanSaders, and Jaeyun Moon, who recently joined the faculty of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. The synthesized nanoshell material is spray-painted in Chen’s lab onto a metal substrate for thermal and mechanical testing. The material’s ability to absorb sunlight is measured in Liu’s optics laboratory using a unique set of instruments that takes spectral measurements from visible light to infrared.

Current CSP plants are shut down about once a year to chip off the degraded sunlight absorbing material and reapply a new coating, which means no power generation while a replacement coating is applied and cured. That is why DOE’s SunShot program challenged and supported UC San Diego research teams to come up with a material with a substantially longer life cycle, in addition to the higher operating temperature for enhanced energy conversion efficiency. The UC San Diego research team is aiming for many years of usage life, a feat they believe they are close to achieving.

Modeled after President Kennedy’s moon landing program that inspired widespread interest in science and space exploration, then-Energy Secretary Steven P. Chu launched the Sunshot Initiative in 2010 with the goal of making solar power cost competitive with other means of producing electricity by 2020.

Sunswift eVe

A New, Solar-Powered Champion Takes the Title of “Fastest Electric Car in the World”

Sunswift eVe
The ‘Sunswift eVe‘ solar car

A team of engineering student’s from Australia’s University of New South Waleshas smashed the 26 year old world record  for the fastest electric car over a distance of 500 km.  The previous record stood at 73 kph, but now that record lays in the wake of the new victor in the shape of the ‘Sunswift eVe‘ solar car, which sits pretty on top of the podium with a new top speed of 106.9 kph.

26 year old project manager Hayden Smith spoke of his extreme happiness with how the world record attempt went, proving to many that there is an exciting future ahead for electric cars, with the eVe showing that even without its solar system switched on, it was able to sustain a constant highway speed for an extended distance.

The car can last 500 km on a single charge, which in all honesty is much further than the average person drives in a day anyway. And that’s only the minimum – the charge can last up to 800 km with the solar system turned on.


Smith is confident that the eVe will hit the Australian highways at some point next year. Some may question that this may be a little too optimistic because of the many changes the eVe will have to undergo in order to adhere to rules and regulations. The current car was designed almost entirely to beat the record, so offers little or no comfort to the driver because of the stiff suspension and low racing seat.

The only foot pedal within the car is the mechanical break that requires the driver to use their athleticism by crossing their legs over in order to apply pressure to the pedal, which isn’t exactly practical for the everyday driver.

As for acceleration, a paddle on the wheel takes care of that, as does another paddle which controls regenerative breaking.

All in all, the final product that these Australian students have conjured up is truly astonishing. Smith said, “It’s not often you can confidently say you made history before you even graduated,” and we can bet that Smith will be a prominent force in the electric car industry for years to come.

His main point though, for all of his and his team’s efforts, is that, “This is really about curing people’s fear of the lack of speed and curing their range anxiety, showing this car can travel at high speeds for long distances which is really what everyone wants.”

Video: Solar Schools Crowdsourcing Community Initiative

The Solar Schools project is putting clean energy in classrooms all over the country. This project gets students and the wider community involved in an effort to support renewable energy and reduce school utility bills. Solar Schools is run by 10:10, a charity that brings people together to help tackle climate change.
For more information on the Solar Schools initiative click here.

Make sure to see the article titled, “Comprehensive Green School Information and Resources.” It contains links to over 200 articles covering everything you need to know about sustainable academics, student’s eco-initiatives, green school buildings, and college rankings as well as a wide range of related information and resources.

How Students Are Powering The Future

Every day, I wake up to the buzz of my (energy-powered) smart phone, still benumbed from a good night’s sleep and slightly reluctant to make my way through the electric mist of yet another morning. I know that the guilty pleasure of switching back again to the “on” mode awaits me and with it, the possibility to indulge my energy addiction with blissful delight.

Turning the lights on. Putting the kettle on. Switching the computer on.

And so starts my conquest of the day, relinquishing a few watts to the profligate modernity even before I have sipped my first cup of coffee. Gone are they, nearly unnoticed, sucked from the power grid by those appliances that seem to make my life preternaturally ordinary. I plug them in, forgetful of the small wonder that this represents, assuming electricity is an evident endowment of contemporary existence.

Is it?

Not exactly, if you consider that a fifth of humanity can’t precisely turn the light on. An estimated 1.3 billion people don’t have access to cheap energy yet and at the current population growth rate, 1 billion of them might still be left to their own devices by 2030. This means cooking food on traditional fuels such as wood or dried animal dung and having your whole way of life constrained by daylight hours… energy poverty.


Waxing lyrical and beating about the bush on carbon emission targets is nice, but where does access to energy fit on our global agenda? If we are serious about heading off poverty, should not energy be at the forefront of our efforts? Can you imagine living without a fridge to store fresh food, obliging you to resupply every day without a motor vehicle to move around?

Powering the future is about bringing the enormous benefits of electricity to those countries left on the fringes. Universal access to energy will in turn power their own development, their capacity to harness new business, connect to the modern world and rise from poverty through increased productivity and efficiency.

We often think of the future of energy as a Blade Runner movie, dreaming of cars propelled by inexhaustible, candy-sized sources of energy, hovering above the ground in a trail of vapour. We debate endlessly about entire communities being powered on renewable energy at ludicrously low costs.

We talk about carbon capture like an entomologist of a faintly exotic species of butterfly to pin on a board. We design hybrid cars, develop biofuels and speak of “green” nuclear energy, envisioning souped-up versions of what already exists. We think of energy alternatives, but we consistently fail to draft the whole scenario of different, more sustainable life modes.

Powering the future is not about future power.

It is about how we want to shape tomorrow’s world out of our energy choices.

Today, oil accounts for more than 95% of transport energy. Long before the internet, individual and public motor transportation disenthralled whole populations from the tight boundaries of geography, if only to throw them into the torments of urbanity.

With hardly a place beyond our reach within a single day, the combustion engine has profoundly altered the physiognomy of urban development, to the point of subjugating the design of entire town districts to the requirements of modern transportation.

Fossil fuel-burning engines have prodigiously increased our mobility, endowing us with speed, for speed is progress and progress is power. But this comes at a cost: dwindling city centres, metastasising grey zones and throngs of drivers converging forth and back to their suburban dwellings night and day, increasing air pollution exponentially.

Can we imagine a world disenfranchised from motor transportation? Have we only thought of living otherwise? And would it be more enjoyable, healthier, more sustainable? In short, would it be better?

Hence, powering the future is about rethinking our lifestyles too.

Because fossil fuels are (still) relatively cheap, we have been careless in expending them wastefully. We like to shoo away the prospect of peak oil by forecasting the growing use of substitutes to keep our life habits unchanged. Is it the best route to sustainability? And will we make a good deal of exchanging the geopolitics of oil for those of backstop technologies?

Advocates of renewables are often shy on mentioning the huge territorial grabs that such energies entail, creating new legal issues on the use of land. We won’t stave off potential conflicts and recessions by simply ignoring such concerns. Nor can we seriously expect any significant improvement by substituting dirty energies for cleaner ones.

It will take more than that. Energy profligacy entails pollution and wasteful consumption, like excess food obesity. We have to reflect upon a cleaner but equally leaner future, with smarter consumption behaviours. We have to think about more parsimonious modes of existence.

Beyond those necessary but somewhat distant goals, powering the future is about energy literacy.

Back to my daily wake-up routine, I feel like most people for whom energy is available “on tap”: only remotely aware of the effects that my own habits have on wider energy issues. The proverbial “just plug it” has ironically unplugged my pedestrian concerns from their global consequences and how they fit into the wider picture.

Sustainable energy consumption is not conspicuous like organic food or environment-friendly housing. Therefore, achieving leaner consumption profiles implies better consumer knowledge and higher energy literacy.

The International Student Energy Summits have chosen “Powering the Future” as this year’s motto, and for good reason.

We want to enlighten people rather than fudging the real issues in endless polemics. We want to acquire and share energy-related knowledge. And we want to rise to the challenge of sustainable energies.

We were born in a world of abundance ripe with short-term benefits: we now have to envisage scarcity and actively engage in long-run investments. And only true belief and dogged commitment will give our generation the ability to power the future.


This post was originally written by Julien MATHONNIERE, University of Aberdeen | European Regional Summit Team and featured on the Student Energy Blog.


The post Energy Poverty and How Students Are Powering The Future appeared first on The Blog.

Solar-Powered Computers for Students in Africa


A business which is based at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park (UNIP) has developed a unique solar-powered off-grid computing solution which is being used by students in Africa.

Sustainable Computers was founded by Tony Winfield, a former Head of ICT and Business at a local secondary school, who recognized that one of the issues holding back the use of ICT in developing countries was the availability and cost of electricity.

Working with manufacturers, Solar Ready Ltd., Tony came up with the idea of combining his background in education and healthcare with an ICT solution which could be run off solar power. The solar-powered computer developed by Solar Ready operates completely “off-grid”, using direct and stored power from renewable energy sources.

Some of these  solar-powered computers are already benefiting students in South Africa and Ghana where they are being used as self-contained classrooms. Speaking about the benefits of the solar-powered system, Tony said: “The solution we’ve developed is ideal for schools and other organizations that have unreliable or no access to mains electricity. However, it can also be used with mains supplies, providing savings of up to 70% on electricity costs.

“Each component in the system is designed to maximize efficiency. The power is distributed directly to each computer and screen, doing away with the need for wasteful power inverters, enabling the solar-powered systems to operate in both daylight and dark hours.”

The move to UNIP is enabling Sustainable Computers to make new links with university academics and other businesses which are based at the Innovation Park. The company is currently working on a number of collaborative international research projects with academics at the University of Nottingham and industry.

One project which is being developed with The University of Nottingham and the Institute of Physics is for a system which will be used in Ethiopia for five teacher training centers which will help to teach Physics to pupils in the country. They are planning to extend the project to include Chemistry, Biology and Mathematics.

“Being based at the University of Nottingham Innovation Park has been really beneficial to the business,” added Tony. “I have made links with lots of academics and other staff who are helping me to find new opportunities for the technology.”

Bob Scott, Director of the University of Nottingham Innovation Park (UNIP), added: “It’s great to see that Sustainable Computers is developing and growing at UNIP. There are lots of entrepreneurs based here who find the dynamic environment and the access to academic expertise and talented students invaluable as a means of sparking new ideas, thinking and working more innovatively.”

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

Harvard Students Create “Dirt Powered’ Light for Africa

dirt-light-africaA team composed of Harvard students and alumni was among the winners of the World Bank’s Lighting Africa 2008 Development Marketplace competition, held in Accra, Ghana, from May 6 to 8, 2008. The team’s innovation, microbial fuel cell-based lighting systems suitable for sub-Saharan Africa, netted the Harvard group a $200,000 prize.

According to the World Bank, because only 26 percent of Africa’s population has access to grid-based electricity, most residents rely on dangerous kerosene lamps and candles for illumination. To encourage the development of cheaper and safer lighting technologies, the organizers of Lighting Africa 2008 sought practical solutions from around the world, ultimately funding 16 of the original 400 proposals.

The winning Harvard project came to life thanks to an undergraduate course, “Idea Translation,” taught by David Edwards, McKay Professor of the Practice of Bioengineering and author of “Artscience: Creativity in the Post-Google Generation.” As part of the course Edwards challenged students to develop an idea that crossed the conventional boundaries of art and science, imagining light engineering as an art form.

“In the course we found what many of us were missing in our lives: a project that combined our love for Africa and our passion for technology,” said Harvard College alumnus Hugo Van Vuuren ’07, a South African native who took the course as a senior in the fall of 2007. “For all the Pan-Africanism of the last four decades it is quite rare to have young students from South, East, and West Africa in the same room without a soccer ball somehow involved.”

Joining Van Vuuren, an economics concentrator, were current undergraduate students Stephen Lwendo ’10 (computer science and engineering) and David Sengeh ’10 (bioengineering), who are both from Africa; and Alexander Fabry ’09 (history of science and physics); alumna Zoë Sachs-Arellano ’07 (a philosophy concentrator who co-founded the Namibia Connection Youth Network); and Aviva Presser, a graduate student at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

To translate their idea into a reality, the team collaborated with designer and entrepreneur Richard Kirk. Kirk, the founder of the London-based Elumin8, and more recently, Polyphotonics, is known for his development and use of a new lighting form based on electrically conducting polymers, akin to luminous plastic sheets. The students then turned to Peter Girguis, assistant professor of biology in Harvard’s Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, who pioneered a microbial fuel cell (MFC) energy source suitable for the developing world.

MFCs capture energy produced by naturally occurring microbial metabolism and can generate electricity from organic-rich materials such as soil, manure, or food scraps. By contrast, most renewable energy technologies are based on solar or wind power. Unlike these and other natural solutions for generating electricity, the team says MFCs are more reliable — working day or night, rain or shine — and are markedly less expensive.

The further development of the technology was encouraged by the ongoing mentorship of Presser, who served as a teaching fellow for the course (and later joined the team as a technology partner at the close of the semester), and Paul Bottino, co-founder of the Technology and Entrepreneurship Center at Harvard (TECH) and the Idea Translation Lab, based at SEAS. Both Presser and Bottino have been involved with initiating or helping to run startup ventures.

Such connections inspired the student team not only to enter the World Bank competition, but to go one step further and create a social enterprise, Lebônê Solutions, dedicated to solving the lighting crisis in Africa. In fact, the journey from concept to application to startup was not a direct path and continued to evolve more than a year after the course wrapped up.

“The original concept in the course started with an idea of lighting London for the 2012 Olympics and then morphed into lighting Africa with the active role of the various advisers,” explains Edwards, who matches the students with idea generators of all kinds, from scientists to visual artists. “Aviva played a lead role as mentor, and the Idea Translation Lab and Harvard Initiative for Global Health (HIGH) continued to support the students after the course ended.”

With the prize money from the World Bank competition and additional funding from the Harvard Initiative for Global Health, the team will conduct the first field study in the foothills of Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, starting in July. They then have plans to test and distribute refined prototypes in Namibia in collaboration with Namibia Connection Youth Network.

Original Article on Sustainability at Harvard

Northwestern Students Test Solar Cell Behavior at High Altitudes


Four undergraduate students from Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science have taken photovoltaic cells somewhat closer to the energy source to find out how the proximity to the Sun affects their performance.

The team, led by Mark Fischer, who will graduate in June with a B.S. in mechanical engineering, cheered as the payload that was sent 97,000 feet into the atmosphere on a weather balloon parachuted back to Earth intact.

Fischer and fellow McCormick seniors Julian Minuzzo, Jingwei Lou and Sail Wu, who sent the solar cell experiment—with a video camera—up from an Indiana field May 23, were surprised by the answers to their simple questions.

When they reviewed the data and crunched the numbers, they found that the solar cell — a device that converts the energy of sunlight directly into electricity—did not, as expected, perform best at the highest altitudes. They assumed that closer proximity to the sun would mean more intense rays and better performance.

It turns out, the sweet spot for a high-altitude solar cell is between 50,000 and 60,000 feet above Earth’s surface.

“Solar cells are more efficient as they get colder,” Minuzzo said. “As altitude increases, the air temperature gets colder, but then you reach a point where it gets warmer again. The air is coldest between 50,000 and 60,000 feet.”

The findings could be important for future technologies like solar-powered aircraft and drones.

The project was a great learning experience for the students—not just about solar cells or weather balloons, but the value of careful preparation.

“There’s this moment where you count down—3, 2, 1—and let the balloon go, and there’s nothing you can do. It’s out of your hands,” Fischer said. “You launch it and cross your fingers and hope you did everything right.”

The experiment traveled 40 miles in one hour and 56 minutes before returning to Earth—31 miles from the launch site—recording data and images during the entire trip.

Original Article on The Daily Fusion

Green Mountain College Students Build Solar Garage


Students at Green Mountain College don’t just study solar projects, they design and build them.

This year students in the Renewable Energy and Ecological Design Program designed a solar-powered garage. The project not only taught students practical real-world experience in designing and building, it also will serve the college’s fossil fuel-free farm and could make electric car charging more viable in Vermont, where long cold winters and hilly terrain make plug-in cars less efficient.

The program received a $50,000 grant from Constellation Energy Resource’s “E2 Energy to Educate” program.

Students were involved in every aspect of the project from design to working with contractors, said Lucas Brown, Assistant professor of environmental studies with the college.

They learned to generate ideas and modify plans based on client feedback and implemented the building.

“One of the things we’re doing at Green Mountain College is we’re creating opportunities for students to get engaged and find real world solutions as part of the curriculum,” he said.

Projects like the garage give students confidence to go into the real world, equipped with skills and ready to start work immediately and understanding what it takes to create a project from the idea to construction.

“It’s this collision of ideas and values of sustainable design with the real world of construction and budgets,” Brown said.

Solar classIt started from the beginning, when 21 students in the class had to organize themselves into team and collaborate.

“It was good practice in consensus decision-making,” said student Connor Magnuson in a press release about the project.

The garage features and integrative design to optimize performance of electric vehicles in cold weather.

The students designed the garage to use recycled or repurposed materials. The building, which is situated on the college’s fossil-free farm, uses active and passive solar technology to charge an electric vehicle.

A fiberglass passive-solar south facing wall serves multiple functions including being used for early-season crop germination for the college’s farm where the building is located. It was meant to showcase integrative design and serve multiple purposes.

“It’s really a spectacular space,” Brown said.

The project will not only serve the school, it’s already had an impact on the students involved in the project. Audrey Jiunta, said the project bolstered a passion for design and construction.

“It was the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done,” she said. “Finding a design that fit into the ecology and actually building it- that’s what I want to do now.”

She plans to travel to Guatemala in late May for an internship in the design-build field.

Original Article on Cleanenergyauthority

Can Stanford Students Revolutionize Green Home Construction?


Stanford students are planning to revolutionize green home construction with a new standardized platform. A first home based on this concept is being built right now (you can even follow the progress via its very own YouTube channel). This solar-powered, zero-emission house is Stanford’s entrant in the Solar Decathlon, a biennial competition run by the U.S. Department of Energy. The 2013 competition will feature solar homes from 20 collegiate teams from four countries.

At the heart of the project is the Start.Core, a central unit that contains all the plumbing, utilities and appliances and manages the house’s energy usage. The team believes that a standardized unit like the Start.Core could transform green home construction.

“We want to inspire industry to think about houses that can be built more like cars,” said project manager Derek Ouyang, a double major in civil engineering and architectural design.

The ability to mass produce basic but critical elements will make it possible to improve quality control and upgrade equipment with new technology as it becomes available, while at the same time allowing customizability. “The Start.Core is like an engine for homes, and you can build any shell you want around it,” he said.

Most of the students had no carpentry experience before beginning the build, but they are gaining on-site training from five instructors from the Carpenters Union, one of the project’s sponsors. After a few hours on the site with the expert instructors, Ouyang said, most students feel very comfortable with the construction equipment.

Learning their way around a construction site, however, hasn’t been the only challenge.

“Every single day we run into five unexpected issues,” Ouyang said. “Most of them are structural. When you’re designing something using 3-D software, it looks really easy to drop in a beam or a screw. But then you finally get building, and you realize you can’t swing a hammer in the space where you planned to put a nail. I’ve spent most of my time so far going around the site figuring out on-the-spot design changes.”

Earlier this week, 100 6th-graders from nearby Nueva School visited for a tour of the house. A public house-warming ceremony is scheduled for Earth Day, April 22, and the team has plans for more educational tours this summer, when the core systems are fully integrated. Ouyang said that these outreach efforts will help people think about improving their day-to-day energy consumption.

“We’re packaging behavioral design into the Start.Core, to help people become net-zero as well,” Ouyang said. “The more aware you are of your daily energy usage, the more likely you are to improve your habits. That’s hard to do just based on an electric bill at the end of the month.”

This summer the team also will be fine-tuning the operating systems and confirming that the house is really operating at net-zero emissions.

Later this summer, the team will practice dismantling and re-assembling the house in preparation for the competition, which will be held October 3-13 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.

Original Article on The Daily Fusion