Solar Energy Decathlon Design Focused on Sustainability

In honor of the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon — which challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar power houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive — we are profiling each of the 20 teams participating in the competition. For our latest story, we spoke with Michelle Marcovits of Florida International University about the team’s design — called the perFORM[D]ance House.

When settling on a design concept for their Solar Decathlon entry, Florida International University (FIU) students knew they had to come up with something that would effectively function in the tropical, variable climate of Miami. For FIU students that means adopting an open pavilion, porch-like design modeled after structures commonly found in Central and South America. “Producing energy is great but you need to start with a space that’s designed as sustainably and efficiently as possible,“ says the FIU team Project Engineer, Michelle Marcovits.

Over the course of the next few months, the students will build the solar-powered home that they will showcase on the National Mall as part of the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon 2011 competition. Their design, called the perFORM[D]ance House, encourages customization and adaptability depending on the needs of its inhabitants.

A signature feature of the design is the adjustable panels along the perimeter of the home. On sunny days the panels can be lifted to act as a canopy, shading the interior and outside bamboo deck. During inclement weather, the panels act as shutters, closing tightly around the home to add an extra layer of stability. “A big concern for us is being able to withstand hurricanes — the shutter system is an integral part of the design,” explains Michelle.

The walls of the home that face south are super-insulated to keep the interior cool and comfortable during high-temperature days.The remaining exterior walls are comprised of floor-to-ceiling glass windows that let in the natural light from the sun. The majority of the home’s electricity will be generated with a rooftop array of solar panels. Added elements like Energy Star appliances and LED lighting round out the highly-efficient home.

FIU’s journey to Washington, D.C. will not be without its challenges. In addition to the construction process, the home must be transported by truck 1,056 miles from Miami to the National Mall. Still, Michele says the experience so far has been rewarding. “Everything we’re learning along the way has been valuable. I love the opportunity to see what we can all do,” she said.

By Erin Pierce, Communication Specialist for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.