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SPIE Professional January 2013

Solar Decathlon Europe

Tree canopy functions inspire winning home design.

By Karen Thomas

Logo for Photonics for a Better World

The two-week Solar Decathlon Europe took center stage in Madrid, Spain, last September as more than 220,000 visitors toured the Solar Village in Casa de Campo Park to see 18 solar-powered homes. The homes were built by teams of university students from 11 different countries throughout Europe and Asia.

Activities designed to educate the public about the responsible use of renewable energy included cooking with photons and pedaling stationary bikes to create energy for a live music show.

Each home earned points in 10 categories ranging from form to function: architecture; engineering and construction; energy efficiency; electrical energy balance; comfort conditions; functioning of the house; communication and raising social awareness; industrialization and market viability; innovation; and sustainability.

The Solar Village in Madrid hosted 18 solar-powered homes in September.

After a close competition, French team Rhône-Alpes won with its “Canopea House,” engineered to be stacked into “nanotowers” for sustainable urban housing in alpine areas.

Second place went to Team Andalucía of Spain for “Patio 2.12,” which consisted of four separate prefabricated modules built on a block for easy removal without leaving a footprint.

Team Rome (Italy) won third place for its sustainable Mediterranean-style house, “Med in Italy.”

Among the eclectic entries in the 2012 competition were Team Portugal’s “cem’ casas em movimento,” which rotated up to 180 degrees to follow the sun and regulate interior temperatures while producing 2.5 times more energy than it used. Team (e)co of Spain’s house mimicked a hermit crab and included a biodegradable interior and exterior greenhouse.

The “Ekó House” from Team Brazil was inspired by the country’s indigenous Tupi-Gurani people and featured interior wetlands for gray water treatment, a series of verandas for controlling temperature, and dry composting toilets to minimize waste.

The main objective of the Solar Decathlon is to promote energy-saving technology and raise awareness among the public about the need for sustainable energy, according to Sergio Vega, Solar Decathlon Europe director. In keeping with the idea of sustainability, the Solar Village was connected to a smart grid powered by the energy produced by the participating solar houses.

The Rhône-Alpes Canopea

Team Rhône-Alpes built one prototype of the Canopea for the Solar Decathlon. The complete design would consist of stacks of Canopea homes forming a healthy green habitat in densely populated areas. The prototype was a 75-square-meter unit with a master bedroom, bathroom, and living room with large bay windows that open to an outdoor garden.

Louvers in the interior permit natural ventilation and lighting. The ceilings are composed of earth-radiant panels that can incorporate light strips for interior illumination.

The idea for Canopea House came from tree canopies which absorb about 95% of a forest’s overall solar energy and capture almost 30% of rainfall. The design from Rhône-Alpes features individual living spaces stacked to create a nanotower. Clusters of nanotowers are linked by passageways containing areas for gardening, storage, and recycling. An outdoor terrace helps expand the interior space. The top floor is designed to be shared by the community for recreation and other activities such as cooking and doing laundry.

The roof of the Canopea is composed of an array of silkscreened bi-glass photovoltaic panels. The PV array can’t generate enough energy to power an entire nanotower but comes close, reducing how much power is needed. Each nanotower is connected to a smart grid that manages heating and cooling systems to optimize energy conservation.

Designed in response to the lack of living space in crowded cities, Canopea houses can be stacked vertically or horizontally to create the nanotowers.

Illustration of how a “Canopea House” would fit into an urban environment.

The winning Canopea House from Team Rhône-Alpes was a prototype of the top two levels of a tower: one home and the common space above.
Three Solar Decathlons

First organized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) in 2002, the Solar Decathlon is an international competition created to allow university students from around the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered housing that focuses on maximum energy efficiency while being cost-effective and attractive. Open to the public, this competition gives visitors the opportunity to tour each house, learn about energy-saving features, and find ideas to use in their own homes.

Since the first Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC, the competition has expanded to include the Solar Decathlon Europe and Solar Decathlon China. The North American edition takes place in odd years and the European version occurs in even years.

The next Solar Decathlon Europe will be held in France in 2014. 

The most recent addition to the international family of Solar Decathlon competitions, Solar Decathlon China, is the result of a 2011 agreement between the United States and the People’s Republic of China to foster sustainable economic and social development.

Twenty-three teams representing 36 universities from around the world will participate in the Solar Decathlon China 2013 in Datong, China, in August.

Organized by Peking University, Solar Decathlon China 2013 is co-hosted by the China National Energy Administration and the U.S. Department of Energy.

The U.S. Department of Energy 2013 Solar Decathlon will take place 3-13 October at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA.

Past Solar Decathlons in the United States have involved 112 collegiate teams pursuing a multidisciplinary approach to building energy-efficient, solar-powered homes.

Twenty participants for 2013 will include teams from the United States, Canada, Mexico, Czech Republic, and Austria. The solar homes will be open to visitors daily.

Read more about the 2010 Solar Decathlon in the SPIE Newsroom.

More Photonics for a Better World

Read more articles and blog posts celebrating the many ways that photonics are applied in creating a better world.

DOI: 10.1117/2.4201301.18

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