Solar Decathlon 2015 Team Nexushaus Part 1: Texas/Germany Establishes Working Research Partnership
Posted 3 June 2015 3:36 PM by Kelsey Kaiser, UT-TUM Solar Decathlon Team
As part of the 40th anniversary celebration of our U.S. solar manufacturing, SolarWorld, together with its partners, is sponsoring an American-German team competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. Like SolarWorld, which has manufacturing operations and long industrial lineages in the United States and Germany, the Solar Decathlon team combines American and German ingenuity. SolarWorld is helping the team share their vision and the challenges they will face throughout the competition. We hope you enjoy the story of their journey.
Best Wishes to Team NexusHaus | Beste Wünsche zu NexusHaus Mannschaft
As with any relationship, the one developed by the American and German members of Team Texas/Germany met many obstacles. By overcoming these challenges both sides of the team were able to see the strengths of their counterparts and very likely made a stronger team. The University of Texas at Austin’s School of Architecture (UTSOA) led the charge to develop a concept for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. UTSOA built on lessons learned from its involvement in Solar Decathlon competitions in 2002, 2005, and 2007 as well as its participation in the (2005) EPA P3 Competition, with an entry on “Zero Net Energy Homes.” The school began the design process in the spring of 2013 by holding an interdisciplinary architecture and engineering design studio. Development continued over the summer with the team’s involvement in the Alley Flat Initiative, an existing UTSOA program that is working to develop a sustainable, green, affordable housing alternative for Austin. The program was in the process of building their third home and the students helped with construction. During this time, the first driving concept emerged: density. With Austin’s booming population and rising cost of living, increasing density in Austin’s existing neighborhoods became a primary focus for the UTSOA Solar Decathlon application.
In the fall, Professor Petra Liedl organized and directed the EnergyXChange Conference in Austin, Texas, at The University of Texas (UT). During the conference, faculty and students from the Technische Universitaet Muenchen (TUM), Germany, shared their expertise on mechanisms for implementing energy innovation through lectures, seminars and workshops. As an outgrowth of the conference, UT and TUM saw an opportunity to develop a joint entry for Solar Decathlon 2015 and were eager to be able to work together. With the application submission in December, the energy-water nexus arose, introducing two more integral components to the overall house concept: energy and water.
In February 2014 the 20 teams were selected to compete in the Solar Decathlon. Team Texas/Germany was elated to have been chosen. TUM was currently on their semester break so our UT students continued to research how we could incorporate the three main ideas of energy, water and density and developed the house design throughout the spring semester. In April when the TUM semester began, Dr. Werner Lang led a design studio in Munich – this was the first time our students at TUM were able to put their mark on the design. Picking up where the UT students had left off, the TUM students further developed and refined the original proposal initially working on their own. The strongest designs were then selected and the individuals combined into small groups to refine the proposals. In mid-July, the studio held a final review, with high-profile critics, including architect Hermann Kaufmann, “Cradle to Cradle” co-author Michael Braungart as well as the Solar Decathlon faculty advisors from UT and TUM. When these critics were instructed to vote on their top three designs, the jurors unanimously selected the same three: the UT proposal from the spring semester and two proposals by TUM student teams.
After mid-July’s review, the UT students in Austin worked to merge the three concepts into a single, harmonious design. As part of the preparation and research going into the fall, team members met with experts on residential water systems design, aquaponics and food policy, bringing about the fourth and final major concept: food.
Fall 2014 marked the first time UT and TUM students worked face to face as a group of UT students studied abroad in Munich under the direction of Professor Petra Liedl. Simultaneously, students in Austin were available to assist the Munich group in any capacity to meet the DOE deadlines. This task proved to be challenging for the team, as cross-continental communication and establishing a reliable Internet connection between the two locations proved to be difficult. Surprisingly, availability and ease of access to the Internet in the United States is two to three times greater than in the Europe. During this time, conversations were sometimes heated, and it was difficult to ensure that everyone was interpreting the discussions the same way. Overall, this time was critical to development of the project, and it established strong ties between UT and TUM students in Munich and Austin. In addition, NexusHaus became the official name of the UT-TUM house, highlighting both the nexus concept and our international partnership.
As the spring semester began earlier this year, the baton was passed once again to UT students. The team completed construction documents, materials were ordered, and the construction schedule was set. Students worked diligently in Austin and TUM students were able to make the journey overseas to assist with the project. At the end of March, the chassis were constructed and the two modules that make up NexusHaus were framed out. A chassis is a base frame of a motor vehicle. For our project’s purpose they serve as the foundation for the modules and will allow for the modules to be attached to a truck and transported to and from the competition. On Wednesday, April 22, 2015, true groundbreaking began. After many months of designing, planning, and preparing, the team watched as the NexusHaus modules arrived on site. Construction on the aquaponics system for the house began on the same day.
This week, the team focused its construction efforts on building a mock-up of the deck modules and completed the construction of the aquaponics system. Over the course of the summer, we will continue to construct the home and prepare for the competition in October. We are excited to be in this phase of the project and are looking forward to facing the challenges ahead!
Author: Kelsey Kaiser, UT-TUM Solar Decathlon Team