Go, Solar!

Article Published: Feb. 7, 2013 | Modified: Feb. 11, 2013
Go, Solar!

Appalachian State University’s Solar Homestead took the People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. Now, ASU is one of only three U.S. universities selected to compete in the 2014 Solar Decathlon Europe, set in Versailles, France.

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In two or three weeks, we could get a glimpse of what King Street in Boone might look like in two or three years.

“This is not simply some intellectual exercise,” said Appalachian State University’s Jason Miller about the school’s upcoming participation, yet again, in the celebrated Solar Decathlon. “This is not just about making homes that are net zero, meaning they are designed and built to produce more energy than they actually use, it’s also about making them market ready.”

ASU certainly has experience in that. When it won the 2011 People’s Choice Award at the last international Solar Decathlon competition, based on its design concept for energy-efficient single family homes, or homestead, the school’s work was so practical, sustainable builder Deltec Homes of Asheville is marketing them.

Assistant professors Miller and Dr. Jamie Russell, both of ASU’s Department of Technology and Environmental Design, are co-directors of the latest Solar Decathlon effort, and once again they will encourage ideas and empower input from hundreds of students across myriad disciplines in hopes of winning another top prize at the latest competition at Versailles, France in late summer 2014.

ASU was just honored as one of only three U.S. universities selected to participate in the prestigious Solar Decathlon Europe 2014, which is again sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Teaming up with the University of Angers, a state school in France that was founded in 1356, long before King Street, or even Boone, was even a fantasy in some long-lost mountain pioneer’s imagination, ASU-Angers will present one of only 20 projects accepted into the competition.

And this time, the subject is not single-family homes, but row houses.

“The goal is to come up with the design for a multi-family row house, maybe three stories, like you might see on King Street,” Russell said. “Or in Charleston. It has to be a sustainable design based on renewable energy and appropriate for a medium-density urban setting. A live-work type of design.”

And since Russell grew up in Charleston and Miller grew up in Boone, these two profs, whose area of concentration is building sciences, have a geographical leg up.

And the first toe in the water for the 2014 competition could be just two or three weeks away. The end of February is the rough deadline for 26 students under Miller’s tutelage to bring forth conceptual designs that he and Russell may put on display for the perusal of interested folks on campus or in the community.

Would we recognize such a row house on King Street compared to ones that may exist now and reflect a more pedestrian attempt a being green?

“What you see now, like solar panels and such,” Miller said, “were tacked on retroactively after the houses were built. It has a visible presence. Our designs will integrate the systems into the home from the beginning.

“You won’t see the thermal-collecting units in the walls, and the skin of the home, or building envelope, is tighter and more efficient and demands less power. This is the role of academia: The prototypes and concepts will investigate and explore what’s possible.”

Russell, meanwhile, invites pan-campus participation in the Solar Decathlon project, even far afield from his building sciences charges.

“Maybe as many as 500 students and staff will touch it,” he said. “Students studying web-based development will help. Communication students will be providing logos and reports. There’ll be art department help. Landscape and design. Our business students will study the economic viability.

Seven graduate students here already are identified to lead the project. We’ll end up with 200 of the 500 totally committed to it.

“Then,” Russell admitted, “comes the trickiest part of the competition: Decide how many of the team members will actually get to go to France 2014 for the presentation and then the awards ceremony. The cost of travel for 30 days over there is a huge expense.”

Especially in Versailles, in the shadow of King Louis XIV’s mammoth palace of wide corridors and high-ceiled rooms that are flanked by endless rows of windows and mirrors. The Palace of Versailles, where Louis moved his court from Paris in 1682, would not seem a showcase for net zero home-building.

“I don’t know about that,” Russell laughed. “He was the Sun King after all. Maybe solar power had some voice in his time.”

Correction: In the article, it was stated that Jason Miller grew up in Boone and graduated from Appalachian State University. While Miller did grow up in Boone, he did not attend Appalachian. Instead, he received a dual BA from Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Va., and a Master of Architecture from N.C. State University. The story has since been corrected.

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