The “First Light” solar home prototype developed and constructed by students from Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand, won the Engineering Contest today at the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
The New Zealanders, often referred to as Kiwis, used recycled sheep’s wool insulation, red cedar cladding and an interactive energy monitoring system – all of which were among the features examined for functionality, efficiency, innovation, reliability and documentation by three engineers specializing in energy efficient buildings.
It was a close match between the First Light and CHIP, the house built by Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology, in the fourth juried contest in the competition. The two teams came within two points of each other. In the end, the engineering jurors selected the winner by evaluating each team’s drawings, construction specifications and energy analysis results, as well as performing an on-site evaluation in the solar village.
The walkthrough allowed the judges to verify items worked as designed, for instance, that a clothes drying cupboard that uses solar-heated hot water works the way it shows in the designs. It also allowed the judges to ask questions to student presenters.
The walkthrough lasted about 30 minutes, but it’s estimated that each juror had already spent one to two hours reviewing the team’s drawings and construction specifications. It’s no small task to design and build a competition-worthy house – or to judge it. Engineering is at the core of the competition.
Normal houses have a lot of systems to make them livable – among them plumbing, electrical, heating and cooling. Solar Decathlon homes have these systems, but they also have advanced solar power generation arrays to run everything from high-efficiency appliances to heat pumps. Interactive monitoring hardware provides up-to-the-minute data into computer tablets that keep the teams aware of their energy consumption.
With the win, the top engineering home moved to sixth place in the overall competition, approximately 22 points behind the leader.
Keep track of the competition and individual contest results on the Solar Decathlon website.