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Solar Decathlon 2013: Going the Distance

September 17, 2013 - 4:26pm

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    Solar Decathlon Journeys

    Visualizing the distances that each Solar Decathlon house travelled

    Click competitors to toggle their journeys on and off.

    All routes and distances are approximate.

    Ever wonder what it takes to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon? Over the next couple of weeks, we’re exploring how the Solar Decathlon 2013 teams’ energy-efficient, solar-powered houses went from idea to reality, and documenting some of the steps along the way in this two-year competition. Follow the series by visiting energy.gov/solar-decathlon and see if you have what it takes to be a solar decathlete.

    As if designing and building solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive wasn’t challenging enough, the teams competing in the Solar Decathlon must also overcome another hurdle: Safely transporting their houses to the competition site in Irvine, California. Whether the houses have to travel 50 miles or 10,000, the transportation decisions the teams make can directly impact their final design.

    Early on, teams must decide how they will move their houses, the appliances and furniture for public exhibit, and all the equipment necessary to reassemble the house for the competition. Not only do they have to consider transportation costs, the teams also have to factor into the size restrictions for each mode of transportation. And since the teams only have nine days to reassemble their houses before the start of the competition, they have to plan down to the minute the arrival of their house to the competition site.

    Czech Republic: The 15,000-Mile Journey

    Inspired by the traditional Czech cottage -- the chata -- students from Czech Technical University designed the AIR House as a solution for Czech Republic’s aging population. But because the team is located more than 15,000 miles from the competition site, they had to factor transportation into the AIR House’s design very early on in the design process. Things like the house’s canopy, second skin (similar to sliding found on homes nationwide) and structural timber were limited by the size of the shipping containers, and the team had to develop solutions to protect the house’s solar panels and other technologies from moisture during the transportation process. Over the course of its six-week-long trip from Prague to California -- a journey that started more than two months before most other teams transported their houses -- the AIR House traveled by truck, train and boat before safely arriving in Los Angeles in early September. Students credit this feat to careful planning, measuring and counting throughout the entire competition.

    University of Southern California: The 50-Mile Sprint

    The University of South California designed its fluxHome as a viable alternative to the tract house, complete with off-the-shelf components, smart home technology and design elements that merge the indoor and outdoor living spaces. As one of the schools closest to the competition site, the team’s house only has to travel 50 miles, but that short journey has its own unique set of challenges. Early on, the team decided that a flat-bed truck was the best way to move their house, but that meant the fluxHome’s modules couldn’t be more than 12 feet wide and that the team would need to secure the house with steel beams and columns to ensure it doesn’t collapse when they lift it onto the truck. Before the fluxHome begins its trip in later this month, the team will wrap the house in padding and remove all the windows and doors -- a precaution they are taking to prevent the glass from shattering. Despite the short trek, the team anticipates that some drywall in their house might crack in the transportation process. They hope that will be the biggest problem they have to address. While the team is nervous about the move, they are able to rest a little easier knowing that they are working with the company that successfully moved the Endeavour space shuttle.

    West Virginia’s House Goes from Coast to Coast

    While West Virginia University’s PEAK house embraces the Appalachian spirit, it is going bicoastal for the Solar Decathlon. The house -- which blends mountaineer style with automated smart systems and passive design techniques -- will travel nearly 2,500 miles to the competition site. Over the course of a week, all the materials necessary to make the PEAK house a reality will pass through 11 states packed in two tractor-trailers and two flatbed trucks. Key to West Virginia’s transportation process is having a plan for the most efficient way to reassemble the house once in California. This will ensure that the team unloads the truck’s contents in the correct order and doesn’t waste time in the week before the competition. The team will also have to assemble some of the house’s key elements onsite, a safeguard the team is taking to ensure they don’t get damaged during transport.

    Be sure to check back tomorrow on energy.gov/solar-decathlon for more on how teams prepare for the Solar Decathlon.

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