SolarWorld solar blog

ASU-UNM Team Part 2: Solar Decathlon 2013 is over, Long Live Solar Decathlon!

Posted 6 December 2013 12:00 AM by Prof. Olga Lavrova, Dept of Electrical and Computer Engineering, University of New Mexico

US DOE Solar Decathlon 2013 is over and the results are in. Team ASUNM did great on the engineering aspects of the competition: we placed sixth in the Engineering Contest (our competition from other top engineering universities was tough!) and we consistently held second or third place on the Energy Balance Contest.

Read part 1 of the blog.

ASU-UNM 2013 Solar Decathlon solar house - solar panels donated by SolarWorld 

Results of the Engineering contest include energy analysis and decision-making, including balancing of both passive design and PV-system design. Our team concentrated on designing an energy-efficient house for a desert Southwest climate, native to both Arizona and New Mexico.

In both Phoenix and Albuquerque, keeping homes cool is extremely energy-intensive and expensive, so the ASUNM team had to come up with a multi-layered strategy to harvest the sun’s energy while keeping the house at a cool temperature. Cooling, heating and ventilation systems are comprised of (1) Beka capillary mats system, (2) a thermal storage unit, and (3) supplementary forced air system. Beka capillary mats, made of plastic, are laid underneath the ceiling plaster. As chilled or heated water is plumped through these mats, a radiant-delivery system provides the primary heating and cooling needs of the house.

ASU-UNM 2013 Solar Decathlon solar house - solar panels donated by SolarWorld 

Humidity control and additional peak cooling are provided by a minimal air system consisting of a fan-coil unit with a chilled water coil, an energy recovery unit and air ducts. Energy storage in the form of latent energy, or phase change energy, is implemented in the house to satisfy the cooling load. A thermal storage system, consisting of an insulated box, internal energy storage containers that hold water for freezing/ice, a circulating pump and a 20-30% mixture of propylene glycol is used to store thermal energy and off-set electrical energy during the peak cooling load hours.

The solar canopy consists of 36 SunModule Plus 260-watt black, mono-crystalline panels that will supply 9.5 kilowatts of power, providing more than enough solar energy to power the house and give back to the grid to help power other homes too. The PV array is also the component that creates shade (therefore, the name of the house is SHADE) via the architectural shade structure, also known as the solar canopy. The south-facing planar array both maximizes output and provides a uniform power generation, thus enabling efficient maximum power-point tracking by a chosen inverter.

ASU-UNM 2013 Solar Decathlon solar house - solar panels donated by SolarWorld 

SHADE house is also equipped with smart controls and an automation system which allows customization of comfort systems (such as lighting, heating and cooling) and smart-energy appliances. SHADE house is also smart-grid ready with appliances which are capable of cooperation with demand response and other smart grid features.

During the period immediately following the Solar Decathlon, SHADE will be re-assembled at a solar housing community in Albuquerque, N.M., called Mesa Del Sol. Further research will be conducted, which will focus on smart-grid integration of PV houses as well as on fine-tuning the radiant, thermal-storage and controls systems. These systems were custom-developed and built for SHADE, and the engineering team from UNM looks forward to continued research into their functionality, reliability and potential market developments.

ASU-UNM 2013 Solar Decathlon solar house - solar panels donated by SolarWorld 

In addition to the research activities, SHADE will be open for some public exhibits to demonstrate the use of its unique energy-efficiency, design features, and to serve as an educational and outreach opportunity. SHADE will remain at Mesa del Sol through March 2014.

For more info see

In April, SHADE will return to Phoenix to be exhibited as a part of PHX Renews, in the heart of Phoenix on the Northeast corner of Central Ave. and Indian School Rd. at Steele Indian School Park. PHX Renews is an initiative featuring a partnership between a nonprofit organization called Keep Phoenix Beautiful, the City of Phoenix Department of Public Works and Office of the Mayor, and Barron Collier Companies. During the years that SHADE will be exhibited at PHX Renews, outreach will be performed at multiple levels.

The Arizona Science Center will program the space for exhibit to the general public, including the thousands of elementary school children who visit the museum annually. Local high schools, many of whom are active participants in PHX Renews, will be introduced to the technologies within SHADE and the processes that went into designing and building the project. And stakeholders at Arizona State University from The Design School and the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment will collaboratively study the performance and life-cycle maintenance of the many building and landscape systems within SHADE through the seasons in our urbanized desert. Read part 1 of the blog.

ASU-UNM 2013 Solar Decathlon solar house - Olga Lavrova 

Professor Lavrova is Engineering Faculty Advisor to the ASUNM SHADE team. She is Assistant Professor at the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at the University of New Mexico. Her research areas of interest are novel photovoltaics (PV) materials for better solar cells, multi-functional PV modules, coordination of PV energy with the modern Smart Grid, Power Electronics, Storage and Electric Vehicles.