Best Solar Homes: German Team Wins Solar Decathlon
Second place went to the University Of Maryland. The Maryland LEAFHouse has one of the few technical innovations in the competition -- a waterfall that incorporates design and function to reduce both moisture and the energy needed for air conditioning.
The Solar Decathlon challenged 20 college and university teams to compete in 10 contests and design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home.
The Solar Decathlon's homes are zero-energy, yield zero carbon, and include the latest high-tech solutions and money-saving benefits to consumers, without sacrificing comfort, convenience, and aesthetics. Each house must also produce enough "extra" energy to power an electric vehicle. Many of the solar power and building technologies showcased on the National Mall are available for purchase and use. Teams have worked for more than two years designing, building and testing their homes - the Solar Decathlon is the culmination of that work.
The ten contests that decide the Solar Decathlon measure many aspects of a home\'s performance and appearance. A perfect total score for all ten contests is 1,200 points.
First Place: Technische Universität Darmstadt
This team from Germany came to the Solar Decathlon hoping to have an impact on people, and it\'s safe to say that this happened. Darmstadt won the Architecture, Lighting, and Engineering contests. The Architecture Jury said the house pushed the envelope on all levels and is the type of house they came to the Decathlon hoping to see. The Lighting Jury loved the way this house glows at night. The Engineering Jury gave this team an innovation score that was as high as you could go, and said nobody did the integration of the PV system any better. Darmstadt was one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest. All week, long lines of people waited to get into this house. Total points - 1024.85
Second Place: University of Maryland
At the beginning of the week, people wondered if the Maryland team would have a home-field advantage because they are so close to Washington, D.C. As the week progressed, and Maryland won the Communications contest and was second in Architecture, Market Viability, and Lighting, it became clear that Maryland didn\'t need any advantage. The Communications Jury praised their excellent Web site and house tour. The Architecture Jury said the house definitely belonged in the top tier. The Lighting and Market Viability juries also had high praise. They were one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest. Total points 999.807
Third Place: Santa Clara University
This team wanted to build a sustainable solar house that is functional, elegant, and innovative-and they did just that. The Communications Jury lauded their friendly, enthusiastic house tour, which was informative, entertaining, and very much "on target" for public audiences. They were one of five teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Hot Water contest and one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest. Their house almost didn\'t make it to the Solar Decathlon, because their transport truck broke an axle and delayed them by three days. Total points 979.959
Thin-layer Solar Cells May Bring Cheaper Green Power
Scientists are researching new ways of harnessing the sun's rays which could eventually make it cheaper for people to use solar energy to power their homes.
The experts at Durham University are developing light-absorbing materials for use in the production of thin-layer solar photovoltaic (PV) cells which are used to convert light energy into electricity.
The four-year project involves experiments on a range of different materials that would be less expensive and more sustainable to use in the manufacturing of solar panels.
Thicker silicon-based cells and compounds containing indium, a rare and expensive metal, are more commonly used to make solar panels today.
The research, funded by the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) SUPERGEN Initiative, focuses on developing thin-layer PV cells using materials such as copper indium diselenide and cadmium telluride.
Right now the project is entering a new phase for the development of cheaper and more sustainable variants of these materials.
The Durham team is also working on manipulating the growth of the materials so they form a continuous structure which is essential for conducting the energy trapped by solar panels before it is turned into usable electricity. This will help improve the efficiency of the thin-layer PV cells.
It's hoped that the development of more affordable thin-film PV cells could lead to a reduction in the cost of solar panels for the domestic market and an increase in the use of solar power.
Solar power currently provides less than one hundredth of one percent of the UK's home energy needs.
The thin-layer PV cells would be used to make solar panels that could be fitted to roofs to help power homes with any surplus electricity being fed back to The National Grid.
This could lead to cheaper fuel bills and less reliance on burning fossil fuels as a way of helping to generate electricity.
Professor Ken Durose, Director of the Durham Centre for Renewable Energy, who is leading the research, said: "One of the main issues in solar energy is the cost of materials and we recognise that the cost of solar cells is slowing down their uptake.
"If solar panels were cheap enough so you could buy a system off the shelf that provided even a fraction of your power needs you would do it, but that product isn't there at the moment.
"The key indicator of cost effectiveness is how many pounds do you have to spend to get a watt of power out?
"If you can make solar panels more cheaply then you will have a winning product."
To aid its research the university has taken delivery of a £1.7 million suite of high powered electron microscopes, funded by the Science Research Investment Fund, which have nano-scale resolution allowing scientists to see the effects that currently limit the performance of solar cells.
One of the microscopes is the first of its kind in the UK and Professor Durose said: "This instrument will put the North East right out in front.
"We are working on new ideas in renewable energy and this opens up tremendous opportunities in research."