Solar Power

By Noah Miller

Calgary post-secondary schools are working together to design, build and operate a highly energy-efficient and completely solar-powered house.

Students from the University of Calgary, the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology , the Alberta College of Art & Design and Mount Royal College comprise one of 20 college and university teams from around the world invited to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a competition to create the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house.

“It’s a small home (800 square feet), just enough for one bedroom, an open kitchen/living area, bathroom, laundry facilities and a full complement of appliances, you name it we’ve got it all,” said project manager Matt Beck. “Our home is built with products that are on the market now, some of the applications that we’ve done with them are new to the residential market and are commercial products. It’s a smart home as well as a very energy-efficient home. It’s all powered by our solar system on the roof.” However, the solar team faces another, even bigger challenge. Upon completion in September, its home must be completely dismantled and shipped to Washington D.C. for the competition, where it will not only be judged on efficiency, but also appeal.

“We have to reassemble it in four and a half days,” said Beck. “Our timeline is pretty tight.”

The ambitious Alberta team doesn’t plan on producing just a run-of-the-mill entry for this competition.

“People like to design boxes because they are easy to ship,” said Beck. “We want to design a house that has appeal, to encourage people that the solar technology that they are slapping onto their roof doesn’t have to look ugly. We are pretty confident that ours is really going to impress people. It’s a departure from the houses we have seen in the past.”

The 2009 decathlon will also give the teams the opportunity to demonstrate the potential of zero-energy homes to the public.

“The technology is out there, it’s just a matter of getting people interested in it,” said Beck. “You could get by with a system that’s half as powerful as ours and still do a lot with it.”

The hope is that value-driven consumers with extra income will recognize the advantages of these types of homes and their more sustainable living model.

“Banks don’t quite understand the value of the proposition yet, of how much added value you can get by integrating [solar power] up front,” said Beck. “It’s really hard to get that financing.”

Fortunately, Alberta energy distribution, supply and service giant ENMAX has stepped up as the project’s primary sponsor, which has been named the ENMAX SolAbode.

“They’re covering the majority of our budget for this,” explained Beck. “They will get the house after the competition is over.”

The contest begins Oct. 8 and will draw to a close with the disassembly of the houses by Oct. 21 in Washington.

Beck added that the completely student-led initiative promises to be a real learning process for all team members.

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