Will Solar Panels Ever Grace the White House Roof?

Lucas Hamilton

A firestorm has once again formed around the White House.  This time it is regarding solar roofing panels. You could say it is a wonderful example of where bureaucracy meets reality.  Bill McKibben an author, educator and founder of 350.org, a global organization focused on climate change journeyed to Washington, D.C. to ask President Obama to reinstall solar panels that Jimmy Carter had installed on the White House roof while serving as President.  The White House declined.

I am not advocating that the President uses 30-year-old solar panels on the White House, but the mission was a noble one. As a building scientist and alternative energy supporter representing a company that is investing in the research and development of solar roofing products, I do feel that considering solar panels on the White House would be a strong statement in support of solar technology. It would provide encouragement and serve as an example for all Americans. Even if it were a part of the White House roof, it would send the right message.

The move to alternative energy sources is generating jobs, helping us reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and lowering carbon emissions responsible for global warming.

The Department of Energy is very focused on addressing the issues of climate, reducing carbon emissions, research and development of alternative energy sources  and supporting programs like the Solar Decathlon, which promotes solar power and sustainable, energy efficient construction. But is this too passive a statement of support for solar?

The White House, a significant and very visible symbol of America, would be the perfect place to harness the power of sun.

McKibben, was a guest on David Letterman on September 1, talking about the White House trip, climate change and his October 10, 2010 event Work Party for Energy.

 Lucas Hamilton is Manager, Building Science Applications for CertainTeed Corporation

The Solar Decathlon Europe – An Exciting, if Wet, Experience

The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E

The experience of serving as a sponsor of the University of Nottingham Solar Decathlon H.O.U.S.E. is one, I am sure, none of us who were directly involved will soon forget.

This was the first Solar Decathlon held outside of the United States, and Madrid, Spain served as the host. The University on Nottingham was keenly interested in participating and sought a sponsor who manufactured all the primary components they would use in the house. Saint-Gobain was the obvious choice, given the scope of our interior and exterior products that create and promote energy efficiency and sustainability. The Saint-Gobain companies that participated included Isover, British Gypsum, Saint-Gobain Glass, Solaglas, Ecophon , International Timber, Pasquill and Greenworks (Saint-Gobain Building Distribution). The Nottingham H.O.U.S.E design utilized an L-shaped, modular design that could be worked into rows, terraces or stacked.  The Team’s goal was to design and build an affordable, energy efficient house that would appeal to the general population.

During the construction week in Madrid, the H.O.U.S.E team lost several days due to the worst rain storms to hit Madrid in 50 years. The H.O.U.S.E. location was in the lowest part of the Villa Solar, below the water table, and the rain just poured down onto the site while construction was underway.  As the crane was placing the house modules, it slipped and significant damage was sustained.  There was no way to repair the damage to the house completely so the students made some adjustments in order to meet the construction deadline to compete.  While challenges such as this were a learning experience, the judges did not take the adversity into consideration.

The Nottingham team was the youngest team in the competition, with second and third year students while the other teams were fourth year or graduate students. The team that won, Virginia Tech, had participated in two previous Decathlons with the same house.  By perfecting their design and incorporating the feedback they received, they were able to return and win.

We are proud of what the students we sponsored achieved in the design and construction of the house, how they worked through the challenges and emerged able to compete.  They received second place in the sustainability section and were voted the most livable house by the visitors to the Solar Decathlon.  Several Spanish developers, as well as English developers, are interested in using the design for future construction. 

As part of our sponsorship, Saint Gobain provided training at our facilities to teach the students how to construct the house using our products.  This project wasn’t just about the H.O.U.S.E, it was about creating an energy efficient concept that could be mass produced by builders, the training and the solid hands-on skills the students gained that will set them apart when they enter the workforce. 

As for future participation in the Solar Decathlon, the expertise that was gained by participating would be in vain if the University of Nottingham did not participate in future Solar Decathlons especially since the same students could perfect the H.O.U.S.E which was very well received by developers and potential homeowners – the audiences that really count.

Harnessing the Power of Sun for the Future

Hello, my name is Shawn Beears and I am a Marketing Manager in the Insulation Group for CertainTeed Corporation

shawnbeearsWith all the current attention on identifying alternative sources of energy, it is no wonder that the Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy continues to be a great international event. This exciting competition brings together educators, students, manufacturers, and the general public to push the limits of design and construction of solar powered, energy efficient homes as well as to raise awareness about renewable energy and energy efficiency. As discussed in a previous blog entitled “Stars Align for Energy Efficiency”, this is another example of how the time is right for us to not only embrace, but retain the momentum to focus on efficiency and find alternative energy sources.

The 2009 Solar Decathlon is the fourth contest to be held since its inception in 2002 and will take place in Washington, D.C. in October.  Twenty teams from colleges and universities around the world were selected from submitted proposals to compete.  The purpose of the Decathlon is “to design and build energy-efficient homes that are powered exclusively by the sun.”  The homes are designed and built where the team members live and are then dismantled and reconstructed in “the solar village” on the National Mall.

The careful selection of products and how they work together is critical to achieving zero energy. The University of Kentucky team approached CertainTeed Insulation to use our CertaSpray™ closed cell spray foam for their project.  Closed cell spray foam offers superior air sealing and thermal performance which makes it a perfect choice for energy efficiency and moisture control.  We are excited to be a part of this project as a manufacturer that is committed to sustainable product development.

The goal of the Solar Decathlon is to create homes that are attractive and easy to live in; maintain comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions; feature appealing and adequate lighting; supply energy to household appliance for cooking and cleaning; power home electronics; provide hot water; and balance energy production and consumption.

The 20 houses are open to the public from October 9 – 13 and October 15-18 on the National Mall in Washington D.C. and the event is an exciting way to learn about solar energy technologies, energy efficient products available in the marketplace, and to take a peek at what the future may hold.

Of course, I will be rooting for the University of Kentucky in the Solar Decathlon.