Solar Decathlon Saturday: University of Cincinnati


With the 2007 Solar Decathlon rapidly approaching, TreeHugger is highlighting some of this year's competitors. Lloyd already gave us a sneak peak at the University of Illinois' entry, and today we are taking a look at the work of the University of Cincinnati team. Cincinnati's re[form] house is an attempt to "transform the way that people think about dwelling and energy efficiency ... inform, through abstract and subtle means, how its energy systems work ... [and] perform as a work of art." The team is tackling re[form]'s energy needs from all sides, using both tried and true technologies (like PV panels) alongside newer innovations such as evacuated tubes (EVT) for heating and absorption chillers for cooling.


University of Cincinnati's re[form] under construction

The energy load is separated into electrical needs and heating/cooling needs. An array of solar panels covers the south-facing part of the roof, which will provide all electrical needs for the home. Because this entire section of roof will be covered with photovoltaic panels, rubber roofing can be installed underneath instead of shingles, lowering the cost by approximately $3.00 per square foot.

The heating and cooling is taken care of by the aforementioned evacuated tubes and absorption chiller, which form the backbone of what the team calls their "signature innovation:" A solar thermal system. The 120 south-facing evacuated tubes are filled with oil, which, when exposed to the sun, can heat water up to 190 degrees Fahrenheit. This hot water is run into the kitchen, where insulated tanks under the kitchen counter hold the thermal energy. This thermal energy is used to both heat and, through the absorption chiller, cool the house. By separating the electricity demand of the house from the thermal needs, the Cincinnati team estimates they can reduce the need for PV energy-production by half.

Other design considerations include: Glass sliding doors on the south-facing entrance to the home (allowing warming in the winter), a central trough used as a retention pond to limit rainwater runoff, a rainscreen made from recycled metal to prolong the life of the exterior, and furniture recreated from reclaimed materials.

Getting all of this work to D.C. looks like a challenge, right? Thankfully, transportation was at the top of the list in design considerations, both for this trip to D.C. and a possible later life as a pre-fab solar home. re[form] is constructed with a simple, but effective, transportation solution - a series of eight-foot long trailer bays. This allows for easy deconstruction, transportation and reconstruction, without removing time-intensive elements of the home (such as the PV panels). With the major plumbing and "mechanically intensive" portions of the home fitted on one eight-foot panel, the rest of the home (including the outdoor room) opens up in a way that makes the living space seem deceptively large. Imagine that - living green, living comfortably, and living large in a small space. Now that's good design.

:: University of Cincinnati Solar Decathlon