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Going Green

Rice University Students to Compete in National Solar Home Design Competition

Rice University is one of a group of schools selected by the Department of Energy to compete in the fourth solar decathlon. Rice students will design, build and operate an energy-efficient, fully solar-powered home. Houston Public Radio’s Ed Mayberry reports.


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Rice is one of 20 schools selected to receive $100,000 from the Department of Energy to build a home that utilizes energy-saving technology.  The project will demonstrate that homes powered entirely by the sun do not have to sacrifice all the modern comforts and aesthetics that people currently enjoy.  Roque Sanchez is an environmental engineering student–part of a 30-student team.

This is really about national sustainability.  We’re running out of resources.  We need to learn how to conserve and be a bit more creative in how we make and use energy.  So that’s what I’m interest in, doing that sort of development work or maybe policy work.

One of DOE’s requirements is that the house has a size limit of 800 square feet.

One thing that we’re looking at is houses of this size are what they were usually building in Houston in areas like the Third Ward in the 1920s and 1930s.  And since Rice has a connection with Project Rowhouses, we really decided that that’s what we want to design for.  What really sets us apart from other teams is that we’re designing for a specific place. 

Sanchez says the house will be built in a modular way.  That way it can be taken apart and shipped to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. in the fall of 2009 for the fourth Solar Decathlon.

We’ve only got a period of a bit less than a week once we arrive at the National Mall to put our house together and make sure it’s functioning, put out the landscaping around it.  So we’re definitely looking at, if not shipping a house in one piece, you know–and that’s difficult because we’re going to have to be going pretty far getting out to D.C.–we’re also making it modular.  So there are just a few components that we just button up on site and then do a little finishing work to make sure they all fit together well.

The idea is to come up with a house that can produce enough energy to do all the things Americans are used to doing.

Are you able to produce enough energy to live comfortably during the day when you’re running on solar energy?  Can you operate the appliances that a normal family house uses?  You know,is there enough light in the house that you can see comfortably?  What about the architecture?  Is it very appealing to look at?  Are the engineering systems working well?  You know, is the house comfortable in temperature and humidity, and can you produce enough hot water to take enough showers during the day and wash loads of clothes? 

The DOE grant does not cover material costs.  Students are Rice are having to raise funds elsewhere to cover wood, metal, wire and other materials actually used in construction.  The team hopes to have the house ready for exhibition here in Houston by early summer of next year.  Ed Mayberry, Houston Public Radio News.

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