US Department Of Energy Solar Decathalon--From A Gardeners Perspective
The US Department of Energy sponsors a "Solar Decathalon". Held biennially, multi-discipline teams of students from colleges and universities around the world compete to design, build, and market an energy efficient home.
Engineering students work on solar and HVAC systems; business students work on marketing and presentation, architectural and design students work on--the architecture and design, and so forth. There is a target budget of $250,000 for each home, and they are judged in 10 different categories (hence the "decathalon" name).
Despite dreadful weather, nearly 100F (37c), the competition was fascinating, so we stayed much longer than we expected to.
Many of the features of each home were far more practical and successful than you'd expect. No yurts. I wouldn't say everything was successful--one house was particularly hot and the cooling system proudly described by the designer was obviously not keeping up with the temperatures--but overall, there was much innovation and creativity. This being a garden blog I took note of the use of plants.
One quite impressive thing was how regional the solutions were. Most homes reflected the climate and needs of the region from which it came.
The plants, were mostly donated or borrowed locally and were not key portions of the projects. Shipping costs to the event site in Orange County counted as part of the budget, so the farther from California, the less extras like plants could be featured.
The project by Crowder College and Drury University featured storm windows and special construction to withstand tornadoes.
The home will be taken apart and shipped back to Missouri, where it will become home to a family. It was also great looking, with a striking design.
Special storm windows added over energy efficient windows:
They had some plants donated by local growers set out.
Of course a California school, Cal State Sacramento, was the one with a garage. Each home had an electric car and students were required to refuel the car from their solar array and drive it a certain number of miles over the two-week contest period.
The CSS home will be taken apart, shipped back to the campus, and be used as farm worker housing.
Conventional on the plantings.
The UT Austin/Technische Universitaet Muenchen--you'd think there would be a cultural mismatch between Texas and Germany, but their home was very successful--Austin/German. It worked! They had a hydroponic system and southwestern native plants. Plant wise, one of the best.
Hydroponic system with a solar powered pump: very German.
Plants: very Texas.
The Orange County entry, a joint effort between UCI, Chapman, IVC, and Saddleback Colleges, was beautiful, but the line for it was long and it was one we missed seeing the inside. Top marks for architecture and design, no? They had the lowest shipping costs.
UC Davis had innovations like sliding exterior window shades to keep heat out of the home. The shades can be slid open in winter to allow solar warmth in on colder days.
University of Buffalo offered a home that included what they called a grow-larium, a play on solarium. They might have had high expectations of the gardening skills of their target homebuyer, but it was quite an appealing house and with many handmade features, like the movable counters with multiple functions (steel work surface flipped to wood dining table) and raised growing beds on wheels, beautifully crafted.
The light-filled "grow-larium":
Hand crafted raised bed. The student who made them was there to talk about them. On wheels. Yes there's a drain in the bottom. Well done!
The West Virginia/Rome team (another unexpected combination) produced a very sleek and elegant home. Far more Italian than coal-country.
Complete with vertical herb garden. Italian, no question.
Missouri University of Science and Technology created a home with creative uses of recycled materials--the exterior surface was crafted from shipping pallets:
The home had a relaxed, Ozarks-rustic kind of vibe to it, except for the plants.
The plants were...plastic. The palm tree was...plastic. The hydroponic system contained plants made of...plastic. But remember, they had to ship their project a long way, and use of plants is not one of the judged categories.
At least the veggies in this tower were real.
Marketing and presentation is part of the competition. Signs are judged for clarity, and information.
Plastic palm tree. :(
Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, a major college for horticulture and landscape design in California, had some great native plants.
They also had a demonstration of a low-water lawn. It is said to require only one watering a week. It had a lovely fine texture and a deep green color; other than that I have no idea of how it performs.
Very California design, but they got a fail on their cooling system. The 100F weather defeated it soundly.
Ultra-urban New York City College of Technology had a few tired houseplants.
Somehow that wasn't a surprise.
In the same area as the Solar Decathalon, the Great Park Experimental Farm beckoned, so we went and looked around. That was interesting as well. Irrigation efficiency is one of the "experiments"
Plants grown above ground in plastic tubes of soil-less mix.
No matter how how you experiment with growing methods, the pests always manage to find the strawberries
We didn't see every entry, but the ones we did see were impressive. It was a joy to see students getting extensive experience in working together on a complex, two year long project to build something wonderful. They should all be very proud of what they have accomplished.