A charging station that powers a pedelec (electric bike), a walkway that heats your home, and a bathroom that doubles as a shelter in storms. Oh, and don't forget the edible walls and movable rooms.
These cutting-edge ideas for the home of the future are now on display in 19 full-size models at this year's Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif. The biennial competition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), challenges college students worldwide to build an affordable, attractive and efficient solar-powered house.
The models, like something out of Dwell magazine, aren't just high-tech wonders. They also showcase simple energy -saving solutions such as LEDs (light emitting diodes) and efficient appliances. For homeowners trying to make do with small spaces, they feature multipurpose furniture such as storage ottomans that can be used as seats or tables and in-wall storage to minimize floor clutter.
"The solutions are impressive. The innovation and creativity are inspiring. The variety of design is amazing," writes Richard King, a DOE official who started the Solar Decathlon in 2002. He wasn't giving interviews due to the government shutdown. The decathlon was allowed to proceed, because it used only 2012 federal funds and has 30-plus corporate sponsors.
DOE gave each of the 19 qualifying teams -- 16 from the United States and one each from Austria, Canada and the Czech Republic -- $100,000 in seed money. Over a two-year period, the students raised the rest of the money, designed and built their prototypes, and reassembled them within a week at the decathlon site, which had previously been the National Mall in Washington. This year, DOE aimed to broaden the decathlon's audience by siting it at the Orange County Great Park.
The house exteriors, while sleek and distinctive, aren't quite as extreme as some in the past. Yet their technologies don't disappoint. They feature heating and cooling systems, such as ice storage, that are starting to take off in the commercial world but not yet in the residential market. For example, one house freezes water overnight when temperatures are lowest, stores it and then runs the cold, thawed water during the day through radiant tubes, or capillaries, in the ceiling to provide radiant cooling.
"It's designed for the desert Southwest," says Alia Taqi, spokeswoman for this entry by Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico. It also minimizes the need for air conditioning by having heat escape in the gap between the house's exterior walls and surrounding fiber-cement panels. (continued...)
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