Economic Transformation News

Students at App State Prepare their Zero-Energy "Solar Homestead"

From the Winston-Salem Journal:

ASU students building solar dream home for competition

By Monte Mitchell

June 27, 2011

There's a lot of work being done to prepare Appalachian State University's Solar Homestead to shine as North Carolina's first-ever entry in the Solar Decathlon competition in Washington.

Student Heather Kinsey is helping design a photovoltaic power system. Joe Armstrong is wearing a hardhat and supervising construction. David Lee, Ed Pavia and Janelle Wienke are doing such things as writing and designing promotional material, updating Twitter, Facebook and a website, and giving tours.

More than 100 ASU students are involved in ASU's entry, the Solar Homestead.

"Some of these guys are here 24/7," Pavia said. "They work their tails off."  

The excitement on the project has been building, especially since the home started taking shape, with construction going on now inside the high bay garage area of a former car dealership beside U.S. 421. The homestead will be moved outside later this summer, where motorists can watch its continued progress.

ASU's entry started in 2009 with eight graduate students, as the school submitted one of 45 entries in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon 2011. ASU's design was one of 20 selected for the contest, which also includes teams from Belgium, Canada, China and New Zealand. (The University of Hawaii's team has since dropped its entry so there are 19 schools in the competition.)

ASU's entry is expected to cost about $900,000, with the aim of building the home itself for about $325,000.

Team Germany — Technische Universitat Darmstadt — won the last contest in 2009, but with a home that cost more than $1 million

Part of the idea of the competition is to educate people about solar energy, but also to create prototypes that people can copy for houses. With that in mind, the contest has added an affordability element, so that a team loses points as the home gets more expensive. 

The Solar Decathlon's 10 competitions are in architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, energy balance and home entertainment.

ASU's design draws on the mountain heritage of pioneers who had a central cabin with outbuildings such as smokehouses and chicken coops.

The two-bedroom, one-bath house is 1,000 square feet, including a living room, kitchen and a detached flex space that could be used for an office or guest quarters.

The homestead design includes three outbuilding modules — OMs, they call them — which are unheated space for storage or other uses. A resident coming out of the front of the house would step out onto the Great Porch, which faces the OMs and is sheltered by a large canopy of photovoltaic panels.

Each of the 42 solar panels is about 4 feet by 3 feet and costs about $1,000. The solar power system, which includes the panels and other components, costs about $60,000.

The Solar Homestead is designed to be zero-energy, meaning it'll generate at least enough energy to power it, and probably more.

The home is being built modularly on 14 trailers so it can be trucked to Washington. The students and their faculty advisers will set up the Solar Homestead on a site between the Potomac River and Tidal Basin, beside the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial, starting Sept. 23 and ending Oct. 2. 

Some 10,000 or so people a day are expected to come through the home, and the contests include such things as throwing a dinner party or hosting a movie night.

"Making sure this house is actually livable and not just energy-efficient is a big part of the competition," Lee said.

Lee and Pavia said Chancellor Ken Peacock is a big supporter of the effort. It was Peacock who helped set up a meeting with Lowe's Cos. Inc.

Lowe's and its Lowe's Charitable and Educational Foundation have contributed $350,000 to the Solar Homestead effort. Students at ASU are also big financial supporters through the self-imposed renewable energy initiative student fee of $5 a semester. 

The U.S. Department of Energy provided a $100,000 grant to ASU.

Organizers are still trying to raise money for such expenses as transporting the house and sending some 50 or so students to Washington.

Public tour dates for the Solar Homestead will be July 15 and 16 and Aug. 17 and 27.