18 teams from around the world are competing this week
in a solar home competition in Washington, D.C. Each team competes
to see who can build the most aesthetic and livable solar home.
The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jennifer Guerra reports:
Eighteen teams from around the world are competing this week in a solar home
competition in Washington, D.C. Each team competes to see who can build the
most aesthetic and livable solar home. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s
Jennifer Guerra reports:
Richard King is the director of the Solar Decathlon
Competition in the nation’s capital. We called him on his cell phone as he
was wandering around the National Mall checking out the different houses.
We asked him why he thought solar homes have a future in the housing market.
“You see gas prices are going up, natural gas prices are going up. We call
that volatility in the supply market. Solar energy doesn’t have that. Yes,
you have to buy a collector that you put on your house, but from then, on for the
next twenty years, you don’t have to worry about the price of energy going up
because the sunlight is free.”
Free and limitless, as King points out, and the houses being put up on
the mall try to show how they take advantage of that energy and still look
like something you’d want to live in. As King wandered around the solar
village, he stopped at the University of Michigan’s house.
“Michigan just got their end caps on, and now we finally see what it looks
like. We were all wondering what they had up their sleeve, so it’s pretty
Before the University of Michigan team shipped their house to D.C., we
dropped by the School of Architecture. They were just putting the finishing
touches on their entry.
(Sound of talking)
That’s John Beeson, the project manager of the Michigan Solar House
project. It’s called Mi-So for short. They had to be creative to make sure
their entry was dependent on the sun for energy.
“This is a solar contest, so we are very limited in terms of what we can do for energy production. We can’t even convert kinetic energy, somebody bouncing on something, into electrical energy. We’re very limited.”
The house has to be totally off the grid, which means lots of large
batteries and thin, photovoltaic panels, neither of which make for an
aesthetically pleasing house. And in the world of architecture, if it doesn’t look good from the outside, no one’s going to care if its energy efficient.
“Most consumers today aren’t gonna buy something just because it’s sustainable.”
Lee Devore is the Michigan team’s operations manager.
“But if you have two apples, and they’re identical, and their cost is
roughly the same, if one is more sustainable than the other, it’s that extra
thing, but the thing they’re really concerned about is that it’s still a beautiful
thing to possess.”
Back on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., Solar Decathlon
Competition director Richard King says in this contest, beauty’s as
important as sustainability.
“In the 70’s, we just stuck solar collectors on the roofs in all kinds of
directions and one of the barriers are a lot of people didn’t like that up there on
their roof. So we’ve employed these schools of architecture to design very
beautiful-looking buildings with solar integrated in to actually
prove that solar energy works.”
So to make Michigan’s solar house stand out as the belle at the D.C.
National Mall, John Beeson says the team turned to Michgan’s most noted
industry, the automakers, for tips.
BEESON: “People like taking their cars and tricking them out, and the house is the same thing, you
just don’t know you’re doing it, every time you move into it. So why not make the architecture built that way, so that people can change it and affect it the way they want. So for us, there would just be panelized construction. We would just put these panels up, I’m done with this sink, this mirror combination. I’m gonna take it down and sell it on Ebay.”
GUERRA: “Are people ready for this?”
BEESON: “We hope. If not, it’ll be a good exploratory example of it on the
National Mall for people to go see.”
Even after a winning team’s been picked, the challenges aren’t over. It’s one thing to build a solar prototype for the competition, it’s another to
take that prototype and turn it into homebuilding that can be mass-produced
for less waste and lower costs. Once that happens, we might just see solar
homes popping up in new neighborhoods.
For the GLRC, I’m Jennifer Guerra.