WPI Unveils Innovative Solar House Heading to Competition in Solar Decathlon China 2013

WPI's entry is the only solar house to be built in the U.S. for this competition
April 22, 2013

Image removed.

The Solatrium, Worcester Polytechnic Institute's (WPI) entry in the Solar Decathlon China 2013 competition, was unveiled before an audience of more than 170, including city officials and area legislators, as well as representatives of several corporate sponsors. WPI is part of an international, multi-university team with members from Ghent University in Belgium and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University. WPI is the lead institution and the house was constructed near the WPI campus by faculty, students, and volunteers.

The Solatrium, a prefabricated 1,500-square-foot atrium-style house, uses advanced technologies and materials in aiming for affordable, comfortable, sustainable living. The home, with two bedrooms, a bathroom, and a kitchen, will use active and passive solar energy, with 42 photovoltaic panels on the roof capable of producing 12 kilowatts. 

Team BEMANY (for Belgium, Massachusetts, and New York) was selected as one of 22 international teams to participate in this highly competitive and award-winning program that challenges university teams to design, build, and operate net zero-energy houses powered by the sun. Over the course of the current academic year, WPI students working on the project learned about energy-efficient and sustainable construction methods, as part of their Major Qualifying Project (MQP), Interactive Qualifying Project (IQP), or independent study courses.

"This is a wonderful learning opportunity for our students to use their academic tools and knowledge and create something bigger than themselves. They were challenged on many levels and have risen to the occasion," said team co-leader Tahar El-Korchi, professor and head of the Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering at WPI.

Students in WPI's new Architectural Engineering program designed most aspects of the solar house, including architectural design, structural design, mechanical and electrical systems, and energy modeling, using Building Information Modeling to integrate design, construction, and project management. Following today’s reception, the house will be disassembled and shipped to China for reconstruction for the competition, which will be held August 3-13.

The 22 homes in the competition will be judged on 10 criteria, including architecture, affordability, market appeal, and engineering. Some of the criteria will be juried, while others, such as energy production and consumption, will be measured.

With a total cost of $450,000, the team is continuing to solicit cash and in-kind contributions, and has over 50 sponsors.

Team BEMANY comprises 30 students and faculty from the member universities. This is a collaborative effort among the university students and Worcester Technical High School involving several disciplines, including architectural engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, fire protection engineering, and communications and arts majors, all working together.

Some team members, as well as some Worcester Technical High School students and teachers, will accompany the Solatrium to China for the competition, where some 500,000 visitors are expected to tour the homes. WPI alumnus and internationally recognized Panamanian artist Eduardo Navarro visited the WPI campus last week to create a sculpture that will be placed in the Solar Decathlon house.

Since the launch of the Solar Decathlon in 2002, five competitions have been hosted in the U.S. and two in Europe. This year, the competition will be held in China for the first time, as part of the Sino-U.S. energy collaborative programs; it is a joint initiative of the U.S. Department of Energy and the China National Energy Administration. The competition will be organized in part by Peking University, and will take place in Datong. The 22 university teams will build their houses, display them to the public and engage in a competition with the other participating teams. Some students engaged with the project will travel to China to attend project-related workshops, and to build the house in the summer of 2013.

Sponsors include National Grid, Mass. Center for Clean Energy, Saint Gobain, Suffolk Construction, CDM Smith, Siemens, Beta Engineering, and others.