19 September 2011
The US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 is underway and for the first time a team from the Southern Hemisphere has designed, built and transported a house to take part in the competition.
The New Zealand: Victoria University of Wellington team and their First Light house have travelled further than any of the other 19 university teams to compete in the prestigious competition. Led by students from Victoria University of Wellington's School of Architecture, the team is made up of 25 students, supervised and supported by university staff.
New Zealand is the first country in the world to see the light each day – this inspired the name the First Light house. The design of First Light house is a modern take on the classic Kiwi vacation house called a "bach".
New Zealand's entry to the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, the First Light house, uses natural New Zealand materials from Kiwi companies such as recycled native timber and wool insulation. The First Light house uses less than a third of the energy of a typical New Zealand home.
Innovative technologies in the house include a hot water drying cupboard which uses almost zero electricity to dry clothes as fast as a normal clothes dryer, and a student-developed energy interface which allows the user to easily view how energy is used in the home. The central section of the house acts as a bridge between the between inside and out. This is achieved with a large skylight, decking which surrounds the house and continues through the central area. The house is compact, but flexible, with multi-functional spaces that allow the owner to change the layout to suit their lifestyle.
The design feature that sets the house apart is the attractive and functional canopy, sitting above the roof; the canopy supports the solar array while providing shade over the windows below.
The modular house design was a practical solution for the month long trip by road and sea from New Zealand to Washington DC. This required a house that could be transported safely and assembled quickly on site by crane.
The team began assembling their house at 11 p.m. the 13th of September and have been working around the clock to assemble their house in a total of us six and a half days. The Solar Decathlon homes will be open to the public on the National Mall's West Potomac Park from September 23rd to October 2nd.
The Solar Decathlon challenges 20 university teams to design, build and operate attractive, affordable, net zero energy houses, powered entirely from solar energy.