A net zero energy home

Desert Rose render

A net zero energy home for desert conditions is the mission of the next international Solar Decathlon, but the University of Wollongong’s entry could have applicability far beyond the competition.

The University of Wollongong’s entry in the next international Solar Decathlon is perhaps aptly named. It’s called the Desert Rose, after a plant that can cope with the tough conditions the team will encounter when they build and operate their sustainable house design in the host city, Dubai, in November next year.

With temperatures of 35+°C every day, less than 2 mm of rain for the month and desert sands that present problems for both greenery and solar panels alike, there are certainly challenges ahead.

Student-led sustainable innovation
What is the Solar Decathlon? Sometimes called the Energy Olympics, the decathlon was started in 2000 by the US Department of Energy to encourage innovation in sustainable, renewably-powered residential buildings.

The contest challenges university student teams to not only design, but also build and operate a home that produces more energy than it consumes—a net zero energy home.

The University of Wollongong (and Australia) first competed in 2013. Amazingly, that entry, the Illawarra Flame (www.illawarraflame.com.au/house.php), won with the “highest score ever recorded,” says a suitably proud Brendan Banfield, building services manager for the 2018 team.

It’s a crash course in construction for the student competitors. The houses they design get built, dismantled and rebuilt, perhaps many times over the course of the competition.

In 2013, the Illawarra Flame was built and dismantled twice before its journey in seven 40-foot containers to that year’s Chinese host city. It took 12 weeks to build the first time (in a warehouse in Wollongong), but then just five days to dismantle and ten to re-assemble on site in China.

It’s an undertaking that gives the student competitors—from diverse fields including engineering, architecture, health, arts, business and communications—incredible hands-on experience in design, construction and problem-solving.

In fact, a US Department of Energy survey (covering four solar decathlons from 2002 to 2009; see www.bit.ly/2jgguaf) found some 76% of past competitors went on to jobs in the sustainable building and clean energy sector, compared to just 16% of non-competing fellow students (and 92% found the competition critical to their job-seeking).

Brendan says, “The technology used or invented is typically five years ahead of the market and 10 years ahead of the building code, giving competitors an ‘edge’ when seeking work or starting a business”—some 16% of those surveyed had started their own sustainability business as a result.

Read the full article in ReNew 141.

Read more about the Desert Rose team and their entry here.