Texas A&M University’s solar-powered home incorporated interchangeable rooms, so occupants could change the home to suit their needs, a feature the team shared with visitors to the Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington last October. (Photos by Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon.)
If you thought solar heating-cooling all but died with tax
credits in the 1980s, you’d better think again. Renewed interest in lowering
buildings’ carbon footprints, reducing energy bills, and generally reducing
energy consumption has renewed the interest in technologies such as solar
heating, cooling, and power production. Interest from government and investment
sectors are a few positive indicators for the technology.
It has caught the interest of investment firms like Piper
Jaffray, which held a Solar Symposium in Long Beach, Calif., in September. “If
it wasn’t clear to our nation before, it is clear now that energy is one of the
most critical issues for America,” said Office of Energy Efficiency and
Renewable Energy Chief Operating Officer Paul Dickerson, addressing attendees
of that conference.
“How we obtain it [energy], how much we pay for it, and how
we consume it are all questions we face on a daily basis,” he said. “And what’s
nice is, for the first time in our lives, being green is not a partisan issue.
Whether you care about the environment, national security, or the economy, we
all want the same result: clean, green, secure, and affordable energy sources.”
In 2006, he said, the investment in sustainable
energy was $71 billion, “an increase of more than 40 percent; 2007 looks even
better. Of that $71 billion, my office invests $1.5 billion of [U.S] tax
dollars. Our goal is to invest that money in more focused and smarter ways. To
do so, we have stepped up our dialogue with the world’s scientists, engineers,
and business leaders in search of investment tipping points.”
Controls innovations are a fine example of alternative
energy system advances. Sensicast Systems Inc., Needham, Mass., announced that
its SensiNet® wireless sensor offers a system for “string-level” monitoring of
photovoltaic (PV) solar power. The announcement was made at the Solar Power
Conference and Expo.
The product is based upon the newly available SensiNet dc
voltage and current smart sensors for string-level monitoring of PV solar
power-generating systems. Housed in NEMA-4 enclosures for outdoor use, the
sensors work in concert with other SensiNet components, including temperature
and humidity sensors, mesh repeaters, gateways, and software, to provide a
system for metering and monitoring commercial solar electric systems.
Energy-conscious builders are showing more interest in PV
solar-derived electricity because its low carbon footprint makes it an
attractive renewable electricity source to power lighting, appliance, and
equipment operation, even electricity-intensive systems such as HVAC and hot
water, stated the manufacturer.
SensiNet monitors the operating efficiency of PV systems by
capturing real-time data, the company said, reflecting the condition of PV
cells and panels, and detecting problems that may lead to inefficient
operation. It automates the monitoring process and reports the level of energy
production, logging and notifying maintenance personnel, and producing
automatic maintenance dispatches.
“Investing in systems that support the efficiency and reliability
of renewable energy gives businesses tangible financial, operational, and
environmental benefits,” said Gary Ambrosino, CEO of Sensicast.
“By automating the task of detecting problems and
dispatching maintenance personnel with information on their precise location
and cause, Sensicast eliminates the time-consuming, often painful search and
identify mode of fixing PV arrays and panels in use today.”
Through its ability to monitor and report PV system
conditions and make data available to building automation applications, the
sensor system offers a way to maximize the efficiency of solar systems used for
energy self-sufficiency and revenue production. It can be easily integrated
with other SensiNet systems for building monitoring, the company said.
The first installation of the PV solar monitoring-control
system in a production network is being jointly carried out by Live Data
Systems and Sensicast at the new, 42,000-square-foot headquarters of Ferreira
Construction Inc., Branchburg, N.J. This building uses a combination of eight
components that either produce energy or reduce the building’s energy needs.
The building is said to be on track to meet the Department
of Energy’s (DOE’s) goal for a “Zero Energy” building by 2008. The Ferreira
Construction facility includes 1,200 solar panels (electric), solar thermal
(hot water), a 96 percent-efficient boiler system, and a radiant-slab heating
The Georgia Institute of Technology’s Solar Decathlon home
played with light to transform and open up living spaces, as displayed at the
Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington.
INVESTING IN THE FUTURE
The many benefits of solar technology were displayed as
working systems at the DOE’s Solar Decathlon competition. It took place in
October on the National Mall in Washington, where 20 university-led teams from
the United States, Puerto Rico, Spain, Germany, and Canada designed, built, and
operated solar-powered homes.
The students competed in 10 areas, ranging from
architecture, livability, and comfort, to how well the homes provided energy
for space heating and cooling, hot water, lighting, and appliances. Technische
Universität Darmstadt, from Germany, earned 888.45 points out of a possible
1,200 to win the competition, followed by the University of Maryland team with
872.45 points, and the Santa Clara (Calif.) University team with 860.80 points.
During his congratulatory remarks, Energy Secretary Samuel
Bodman announced funding of more than $44 million to support the
commercialization and promotion of advanced solar and other clean energy
“Promoting the early commercialization of solar and other
energy-efficient technologies will help secure America’s clean energy future.”
Four Building America contractor teams, including the
Building Science Corp., Consortium of Advanced Residential Buildings, and
Building Industry Research Alliance, will receive up to $40 million over the
next five years to develop net-zero energy homes. These homes will be designed
to use 70 percent less energy than homes built to current codes, and will
incorporate solar or other onsite renewable systems to provide the balance of their
energy needs, according to the Decathlon organizers.
This funding is part of the Building America program, a
private-public partnership sponsored by DOE that conducts systems research to
improve overall housing performance, increase housing durability and comfort,
reduce energy use, and increase energy security for homeowners.
Secretary Bodman also announced two regional building
technology application centers, at the University of Central Florida and
Washington State University, that will serve 17 states. DOE awarded $4.1
million to accelerate the adoption of new and developing energy-efficient
technologies by the market. These centers will deliver information and training
on commercially available energy-saving technologies, processes, and tools, and
provide a regional resource for market changes.
The Solar Decathlon is said to complement President George
Bush’s Solar America Initiative, the goal of which is to make solar energy cost
competitive with more conventional forms of electricity by 2015.
“The Solar Decathlon helps develop the future of sustainable
engineering for the building industry,” said Kent Peterson, president of the
American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air-Conditioning Engineers
(ASHRAE). “The knowledge and dedication of these students will help ensure that
today’s interest in sustainable technology and renewable will propel the
building industry into brilliant possibilities for the future.”
For more information, visit www.sensicast.com, www.livedatasystems.net,