Solar Decathlon 2007: Maryland's LEAFHouse


The Solar Decathlon is in full swing with Maryland’s LEAFHouse taking the overall lead. Keeping the bay’s dewy region in mind, the Chesapeake beauty includes the first residential scale liquid desiccant waterfall that serves as both eye candy in the kitchen space and a sustainable heating/cooling system for the home. In warmer temps, the waterfall, using calcium chloride and heat from the solar hot water collectors, whisks away indoor humidity, drawing it outside, and in cooler temps, draws in outdoor moisture, serving as a de-humidifier of sorts. The waterfall whet TreeHugger’s appetite for things both pretty and practical so we had to hear more.

Hit the jump to read our interview with the team’s solar controller:


Brian Borak, 25, University of Maryland Grad Student

TH: So Bryan, I hear you are the solar genius of the group. What’s your background?

BB: I have a B.S. in chemistry and now I’m one year away from completing my M.A. in chemistry.

TH: But I heard you are in charge of the solar design?

BB: Yes. I also built the solar and battery system and installed it.

TH: I’m impressed. Wouldn’t it have made sense to become an engineer?

BB: Well, yes (he smiles) but I am too close to graduation at this point to switch my focus. I have always naturally been intrigued by engineering and consider myself an electronics junky.
TH: So what would you tell someone who’s interested in going solar but clueless as to where to start?
BB: I would ask them-

What are they using that requires energy?
How much are they spending on energy?
How big of a battery bag do they need? In other words, how often is their home not in full sun?

TH: This still seems a few steps beyond what most people are willing to think about, or do. Is there an alternative?
BB: Yes, they can remain on the grid in what is called the grid tied system. They can check with their local power company to see if they offer incentives. All you would need are some solar panels and an inverter. Your bills will be cheaper and you can cut out the cost of a battery bag, which is needed in off-the-grid systems.

TH: Going solar isn’t exactly cheap. How do you rationalize this for the average consumer?
BB: I agree with them. We need a federal mandate from our government. Power companies should pay you, the consumer, for lowering the meter. Manufacturing costs for the solar companies are too high so there ends up being little supply. This means steep price tags on panels and such. A mandate would challenge this.

TH: Speaking of challenges, what sort of challenges have you faced in this competition?

BB: I definitely haven’t had a life the past few weeks and learning how to work through problems with my team and suppliers hasn’t been easy. But I think the biggest challenge has been installing the system, in general. The guy in charge of inspections really sticks to code and asked me to re-wire everything so I spent about 4 to 5 hours cramped between the tiny space in between the roof the solar panels- in 95 degree weather no less!

TH: Now that’s dedication.

BB: (He laughs.)

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