Solar Decathlon-Winners of The Communications Contest


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Richard King, the Director of the Solar Decathlon for the U.S. Department of Energy, said, “Effective communication skills are critical to helping the public to understand the practical applications of energy-saving technologies and how these innovations can help every American household save money.”

For the Communications Contest, teams earned up to 100 points based on a number of criteria, including: web content quality, appropriateness, originality;video content, including walkthrough information, accessible captioning, clarity of the audio narrative and overall creativity; onsite graphics, photos, signage, and displays quality;message delivery to target audiences and people of all levels;use of innovative methods to engage audiences, including website visitors and people waiting to tour a house.

Middlebury College earned a score of 90 out of a possible 100 points for their Self-Reliance design, placing First in the Communication Contest.  Middlebury College wowed jurors with its video walkthrough, website, and engaging tours.  The Middlebury team demonstrated balanced talent across the entire communications competition, making renewable energy technologies accessible to the public.  Stacy Wilson, one of the contest’s jurors and founder and president of Eloquor Contulting, Inc., a communication firm specializing in web and social technology, commented that “We were inspired by Middlebury College.”  Our reporter (yours truly) of received a very informative interview from a Middlebury College student Melake, showing us that this LAS College team (the only team that is completely composed of non-engineering students)  is quite capable of constructing a comfortable (bordering on luxurious) solar home with tremendous market appeal.  The Self-Reliance is a design with gable roof, two-bedroom, for a family of four, with solar array of 30 panels (producing 7,930 kWh annually),

A look at Middlebury College's Self-Reliance's children's bedroom

Middlebury College house's solar array combines solar panels with a solar hot water heater on the roof of their entry

an air-to-air heat exchanger that circulates air through a network of aluminum ducts and feeds the green wall with condensed moisture, triple-paned windows with cork-insulated frames that have an R-value of 7 and a solar heat gain coefficient of 0.53 (which allows them to provide net heat gain over the course of a year).

Middlebury workers prepare the Self-Reliance of Middlebury College for installation of gable roof and PV panels

Appalachian State University came in second with their The Solar Homestead with 89 points.  I arrived at the Solar Decathlon 2011 to interview Appalachian State University’s The Solar Homestead on a rainy day so their ingenious aluminum hat was very well received by all visitors

Appalachian State University's The Solar Homestead shines brightly at night after a stormy day

14-month-old Graysen Black, son of an organizer, gets a preview tour after the opening ceremony, wearing the special aluminum reflective hat by Appalachian State University

to the Solar Decathlon, not only did it serve as a protective device sheltering our heads from the element, but it is also full of information about the design of The Solar Homestead. This affordable and attractive design features outdoor shower, outdoor kitchen, forty-two bifacial PV panels (that supply solar energy while providing filtered daylight), a generous outdoor living space called the Great Porch, an on-demand solar thermal domestic hot water system that uses phase-change materials to provide constant water temperature in compact storage, and a  Trombe wall that is filled with phase-change material to store heat throughout  the day and release it at night.

Bifacial PV panels of Appalachian State's The Solar Homestead above U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Jeffrey Tiller and David Leea


University of Maryland’s Watershed came in third in this contest with a score of 88 points.  Besides the pamphlets, walthrough, and web presentations, University of Maryland also provided the unique presentation of Q & A sessions outside of the Watershed design while visitors were waiting in line to see this home.

University of Maryland's student Justin Huang answers visitors' questions about Watershed design

It sure helped all visitors passing the time while getting a sneak preview of what to expect before they enter this design.  Watershed is inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem, searching for a solution to water and energy shortage by managing storm water onsite (filtering pollutants from greywater and minimizing water use) and using the PV and solar thermal arrays, effectiveness of building envelope, and increasing the efficiency of the mechanical system.  Watershed has very  holistic approach to water conservation, recycling, and storm water management, green roof that slows rainwater runoff to the landscape while improving the house’s energy efficiency, a garden, an edible wall system

a clear view of the Watershed design of University of Maryland

, and a composting station to illustrate the potential for improved health, energy, and cost savings with a complete carbon cycle program.  Some of its interesting features  are: the liquid desiccant waterfall serving as a design feature and provides humidity control, a home automation system that monitors and adjusts temperature, humidity, lighting, and other parameters to provide maximum function

visitors waiting in line to see Maryland's Watershed design

with minimal impact on the environment.  Watershed is intended for a working couple that can use the house as home and office, providing the opportunity to telecommute, thus reducing travel expenses in one of the most congested areas of the country.


written and posted by sunisthefuture-Susan Sun Nunamaker,


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