Collaboration between Alberta universities to build $1-million solar powered home

Students from the University of Calgary (U of C), Mount Royal University and SAIT are participating in the U.S. Department of Energy 2013 Solar Decathlon.

The Solar Decathlon is a multi-institutional international design competition where each team is tasked to build a solar-powered home.

The purpose of the collaboration is to develop an energy efficient home that fits the needs of residents living in remote Canadian communities. The budget for the prototype is $1-million USD.

Team Alberta

The 2013 Alberta team is collaborative effort with over 150 students from Alberta’s top post-secondary institutions with a common goal of developing a solar-powered house that could potentially fit the needs of families in remote communities.

Students from each institution bring distinctive and constructive skills to the project, ultimately creating an effective team.

“It is a large complex project with many areas of deliverables,” said Loraine Fowlow, the faculty advisor and associate professor at U of C’s environmental design program.

“There is a very strict schedule and the team has to work together to stay on track.”

Each solar-powered home in the competition will be evaluated by 10 different components that focus on different skills and abilities. These areas include elements such as architecture, engineering, communication and appliances.

The house

“Our main goal with the project is to build Borealis, a house that re-thinks and reinvents (the) living environment for people living in remote locations,” said Alexandre Ste-Marie, Team Alberta’s project manager.

“Borealis is designed to provide modular, prefabricated housing for remote working Team Alberta’s solar home from the 2011 competition. The homes are designed to allow people to live in remote locations around the world using sustainable energy.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon websitepopulations in Northern Alberta’s boreal forests, and beyond, in other remote Canadian locations.”

The purpose of the decathlon is to normalize solar-powered housing in the residential field.

“Over the span of one year, the Borealis home will produce more energy than its occupants will consume, even in the harsh Alberta climate,” Ste-Marie said.

“In addition to producing its own electricity and feeding excess production back to the grid, Borealis is tremendously environmentally friendly through our use of local, durable and sustainable materials.”

According to Fowlow, technology increasingly comes down to price. The life cycle cost analysis of a solar-powered home in the long term more than pays for itself.

“We want to prove to developers and builders that solar housing is perfectly doable,” Fowlow said. “That it is affordable, there is a market for it, and that it can be extremely creative.

“The sun is free so why wouldn’t we take advantage of that?”

Many of the physical features of the prototype are being kept secret because of the ambitious nature of the competition.

A global competition

Michelle Dennis, 26, is the Alberta team’s communications lead and a fourth-year public relations student at Mount Royal University. She said that the objectives of the communications team is to win, obviously, help with sponsorship and increase engagement of the team.

Team Alberta’s prototype from 2011 shows the team’s creative vision and unique take on modern architecture.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon website
“Personally, it brings a lot of real-world application in communication strategies,” Dennis said.

“Working with a large budget and working with others and professionals in other industries is good experience for any student.”

Every post-secondary institution involved had to compete to get their proposal approved by the U.S. Department of Energy. There were 45 applicants and 20 were chosen from schools across North America and Europe.

“The U.S. Department of Energy competition organizers provide each team up to $100,000 USD, giving out a payment upon completion of each deliverable,” Fowlow said. “For example, the team just received $35,000 USD after submitting the drawing package of the prototype.”

Fowlow said the deliverable schedule takes the team all the way up to competition that takes place in Irvine, California in October 2013 where each team will showcase their prototype.

“Our team is interdisciplinary with students from each Calgary post secondary institution involved,” Dennis said. “We make sure the deliverables are of high quality from of the core team of about 150 people in the 10 different components.”

Dennis said that the decathlon brings students a lot of experience in project management and experience working in large-scale projects.

Dennis encourages students who are interested in participating to get involved with the project as there is still time to do so.

This is the third year that U of C was accepted in the decathlon and invited Mount Royal University and SAIT to participate.

There are two Canadian teams entered in the event: the one here in Calgary and another collaboration in Ontario between Western Ontario University, Algonquin College and Carleton University.

The European teams include one from the Czech Republic, Austria and several in the United States.

The decathlon final event will take place at Orange County Park in Irvine, California in October 2013.

cmahoney@cjournal.ca 

How do you incorporate environmentally-friendly technologies in your home? Let us know in the comments below.