Thursday, September 17, 2009

LUMENHAUS off to Washington, DC

Tech solar house off to D.C.
Monday, August 31, 2009; 10:55 PM
A smart phone can now control a smart house.

Lumenhaus, Virginia Tech's third solar decathlon entry, departs for Washington, D.C., tonight chock full of new technology and applications.

Project coordinator Joseph Wheeler said a new feature of this entry allows the user of the house to monitor energy usage.

"We have a way, using technology, to allow the user of a house to view where the energy is going," Wheeler said.

The house's energy can be viewed and controlled on an Apple iPhone.

"With the iPhone and Siemens control system, you have access to everything going on in the house," Wheeler said.

Lumenhaus is Tech's entry into the Solar Decathlon sponsored by the Department of Energy.

Faculty adviser Robert Dunay, director of Tech's Center for Design Research, said the project has already helped educate the general population about energy consumption.

"I think it has already proven to be successful because the DOE is trying to get the public more aware of daily use of energy," Dunay said.

The competition, which Tech will participate in from Oct. 8-18, occurs every two years. It is held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

"They do that every other year now, and it's one of the main instruments the DOE is using to alert the public to different areas of energy," Dunay said. "The focus of this competition is photovoltaic energy," which is the use of solar cells.

However, Lumenhaus will first participate in a month-long exhibition on the lawn of the National Building Museum.

The house will arrive early Wednesday morning, and Wheeler hopes to have it fully assembled by noon. He credits the minimal assembly time to the method of transportation.

"We came up with an innovative transportation system in 2005 that would allow us to get the house to the Mall in one piece," Wheeler said.

He said the month-long exhibition is a key time to improve Lumenhaus' chances of winning the October competition.

"One month is critical for testing that is going to give Virginia Tech an edge that no other team is going to have," Wheeler said.

Dunay said the experience of two previous entries in the competition has also added to the project.

"Each time, the degree of sophistication goes up exponentially," Dunay said. "This house is quite more advanced than our two previous competition entries."

The competition requires students to operate as if they were living in the house.

"The students have to run the house the way a family would run it," Dunay said. "Everything that is done in a normal house is simulated or done in the competition while they're on the Mall."

Students will not sleep in the house overnight, as the Mall does not allow it.

Dunay said 14 core students will accompany the house to Washington, D.C. He said the number of total contributing students is "probably in the hundreds."

One new part of the competition measures how much energy the houses can contribute to the local power system.

"This is the first time the houses are grid-tied," Dunay said. "Now, any extra energy we dump into the grid we get points. It's part of the energy balance competition, which is one of the 10 competitions in the solar decathlon."

The house accomplishes the energy surplus by monitoring and adjusting to weather and weather forecasts.

Lumenhaus will also compete in an international competition known as Solar Decathalon Europe. It will be held in Madrid, Spain, in June 2010. The house will be transported by boat.

The project has received corporate support from ConocoPhillips and Siemens. It is also partially funded by cash donations.

ConocoPhillips offered support after viewing Tech's 2005 solar decathlon entry. Wheeler said the evolution of the house was aided by the success of previous entries into the competition.

"When we start a new project, we don't start over," Wheeler said. "We start where we left off."

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