Posts Tagged ‘Solar power’

Rural electric co-ops invest in community solar

Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017 - posted by Katie Kienbaum
Solar farm

BARC’s solar farm contains 1,750 solar panels and produces 550 kilowatts of energy. Photo courtesy of the BARC Electric Cooperative

Editor’s note: Versions of this story first appeared in the December-January issue of The Appalachian Voice and the December 15 edition of the Mountain Times.

“We’re at an age where we need to start looking at alternative energy,” says Olivia Haney, an electric cooperative member in Virginia since 1989.

Many electric co-ops in the Southeast agree. Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation in North Carolina, BARC Electric Cooperative in Virginia and the Appalachian Electric Cooperative in Tennessee have each recently launched community solar projects to help members save money while reducing carbon emissions.

Community solar is a cooperative alternative to installing solar panels on an individual residence. Instead of dealing with the upfront and maintenance costs of solar panel installation on their house, homeowners can invest in a solar farm, or array of solar panels, provided by the electric cooperative. Community solar also allows co-op members with homes not suitable for solar panel installation due to the shading and positioning of the building to benefit from renewable energy.

Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation recently completed construction of four solar farms located in Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany and Caldwell counties in North Carolina. Each of the solar arrays contains 368 solar panels. Together, the four arrays can produce over 600,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year.

Co-op members can subscribe to the energy produced by individual solar panels, up to a maximum of 10 panels, for a monthly fee of $4.50 per panel. The energy produced by their share of the solar array will show up as a credit on their electricity bill.

The solar panels went into operation on November 23. Within the first three weeks, 111 members subscribed to a total of over 300 panels.

“A lot of the interest has been driven by a financial interest so far,” says Jon Jacob, Energy Solutions Marketing Manager for Blue Ridge Electric. However, based on the utility’s model, cost savings will only be possible for members who use high amounts of energy. According to Jacob, Blue Ridge Electric is also reaching out to members interested in the environmental benefits of solar energy.

Blue Ridge Electric serves over 70,000 members, providing electricity to the majority of Watauga, Ashe, Alleghany and Caldwell counties, as well as portions of Avery, Wilkes and Alexander counties. Residential and small commercial customers are eligible to participate in the program.

The View from Virginia and Tennessee

BARC Electric Cooperative’s solar farm consists of 1,750 solar panels. The new project provides up to one-fourth of the total energy needs of each of the 220 households that have joined the solar program.

Community members who live in the five rural counties in Virginia that BARC covers can apply to be a part of the program. This co-op covers all of Bath County and parts of Highland, Alleghany, Augusta and Rockbridge counties. BARC member Haney joined the community solar program after learning about the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

Appalachian Electric Cooperative, based in New Market, Tenn., has also recently started a community solar program. According to Mitch Cain, the co-op’s director of member services, the solar array — which consists of 9,471 panels at 145 watts each — is in a test phase and will be fully operational on Jan. 12. Any residential or commercial member of Appalachian Electric can take part in this new initiative.

Subscribers to Appalachian Electric’s solar program can invest in individual solar panels. Members pay $125 per 145-watt panel as an upfront cost. There is a cap at 5,000 watts per residential customer and 10,000 watts for commercial subscriptions. Members begin receiving solar energy credits on their bills the month after they start the program. The time needed to recover a member’s investment is estimated to be about 12 years.

Community Solar’s Effect on Carbon Emissions

Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity that can be used in place of other non-renewable sources such as coal and natural gas, which emit carbon dioxide and contribute to climate change.

According to Blue Ridge Electric, each solar array has offset between three to four tons of carbon dioxide in the first couple weeks of operation. Together, the arrays could offset as much as 375 tons of carbon dioxide per year.

BARC’s calculations state that their solar project will prevent 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

Appalachian Electric’s program projects that 202 pounds of carbon will be offset per year for each panel installed. Over 20 years, one panel will keep 3,866 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

“Solar is here. It is something we can harness and use to help us and help the environment,” BARC co-op member Olivia Haney says. “Hopefully we will see more of this, and hopefully we will see more than just the co-ops looking to do this.”

Blue Ridge Electric members interested in the community solar program can visit blueridgeemc.com/solar or contact Jon Jacob, Energy Solutions Marketing Manager, at 828-759-8956 or jjacob@bluerigeemc.com.

BARC Electric Cooperative members interested in the community solar program can visit barcelectric.com/communitySolar or call (800) 846-2272.

Appalachian Electric Cooperative members interested in the solar program can visit aecoop.org/co-op-community-solar or call 865-475-2032 ext. 1880.

The Appalachian Voice Editorial Assistant Tristin Van Ord contributed to this story. To read her original piece in The Appalachian Voice, click here.

Electric Cooperatives Initiate Community Solar Projects

Wednesday, December 14th, 2016 - posted by molly

By Tristin Van Ord

“We’re at an age where we need to start looking at alternative energy,” says Olivia Haney, a member of the BARC Electric Cooperative since 1989.

The BARC electric co-op in Virginia and the Appalachian Electric Cooperative in Tennessee have both launched community solar projects to help members save money while reducing carbon emissions.

Community solar is a cooperative alternative to installing solar panels on an individual residence. Instead of dealing with the upfront and maintenance costs of solar panel installation on their house, homeowners can invest in a solar farm, or array of solar panels, provided by the BARC electric cooperative. BARC’s solar farm is a grid that consists of 1,750 solar panels. Now members of BARC can invest in solar and avoid dealing with personal solar panel installation.

Solar farm

BARC’s solar farm contains 1,750 solar panels and produces 550 kilowatts of energy. Photo courtesy of the BARC Electric Cooperative

Mike Keyser, the CEO and general manager at BARC, explains that there was a lot of interest in solar by members of the cooperative, but there was no real increase in the installation of solar panels on individual houses. Keyser adds that certain aspects were preventing people from investing in renewables, including physical barriers such as shading and positioning of the house, along with financial barriers including upfront costs and commitments.

The new solar project provides up to one-fourth of the total energy needs of each of the 220 households that have a membership in the cooperative.

Not only does this option allow any member to invest in solar, it also prevents the possibility of future rate increases through a 20-year fixed rate at only a dollar more per month than what standard customers are paying.

BARC sells its solar energy in “blocks,” which are made up of 50 kilowatt hours each.

“We rolled the subscriptions into something called ‘solar energy blocks,’” Keyser explains. “If it’s an average customer, 25 percent of their consumption would be five blocks, which is an easy thing for people to wrap their mind around.”

Community members who live in the five rural counties in Virginia that BARC covers can apply to be a part of the program, including all of Bath County and parts of Highland, Alleghany, Augusta and Rockbridge counties. BARC member Haney joined the community solar program after learning about the environmental benefits of renewable energy.

When it comes to the growth of the project, Keyser is optimistic about the possibilities.

“We have room on the site to triple the size. It’s 550 kilowatts, and we can go up to about a megawatt and a half, so we are hoping to expand in another year or so,” says Keyser. “Once we feel like we’ve given the option to every member that wants an opportunity, then we would increase the percentage.”

According to Keyser, most subscribers in the solar project have shown interest in increasing the percentage of their electricity covered by solar.

Tennessee’s Turn

Appalachian Electric Cooperative, an electricity provider based in New Market, Tenn., is also starting a community solar program. According to Mitch Cain, the co-op’s director of member services, the solar array will be operational after Dec. 12 and consists of 9,471 panels at 145 watts each. Any residential or commercial member of Appalachian Electric, which covers Grainger, Hamblen, Jefferson and Sevier counties in Tennessee, can take part in this new initiative.

Subscribers to Appalachian Electric’s solar program can invest in individual solar panels. Members pay $125 per 145-watt panel as an upfront cost. There is a cap at 5,000 watts per residential customer and 10,000 watts for commercial subscriptions. Members begin receiving solar energy credits on their bills the month after they start the program. The time needed to recover a member’s investment is estimated to be about 12 years.

Community Solar’s Effect on Carbon Emissions

United States businesses have installed enough solar energy to offset almost 890,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, according to the Solar Energy Industries Association. Solar panels convert energy from the sun into electricity that can be used in place of other non-renewable sources such as coal and natural gas.

BARC’s calculations state that their solar project will prevent 11,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide from being released into the atmosphere.

Appalachian Electric’s program projects that 202 pounds of carbon will be offset per year for each panel installed. Over 20 years, one panel will keep 3,866 pounds of carbon from entering the atmosphere.

“Solar is here. It is something we can harness and use to help us and help the environment,” BARC co-op member Olivia Haney says. “Hopefully we will see more of this, and hopefully we will see more than just the co-ops looking to do this.”

Power of Cooperation: Co-ops put solar on rooftops

Tuesday, April 19th, 2016 - posted by molly

By Dan Radmacher

Augusta Solar Co-op member and homeowner Keith Shank stands with a representative of the solar installation company in front of his new solar array. Photo courtesy VA SUN

Augusta Solar Co-op member and homeowner Keith Shank stands with a representative of the solar installation company in front of his new solar array. Photo courtesy VA SUN

When Joy Loving decided to add solar power to her Rockingham County, Va., home in the spring of 2012, she did it the hard way. She taught herself what she could, then found an installer through a Google search. A full six months later, she turned on her system. Since then, she’s been working to make the process a lot easier — and cheaper — for others.

“My decision wasn’t driven by economics,” Loving says. “I’m 70 years old, and without state tax incentives or any kind of discount, my payback period for this system will be very long. I might live long enough to reap the economic benefits. I might not. But my primary motivation was about reducing my carbon footprint.”

When she first began looking into solar, Loving thought there might be some sort of program through her electric utility, or state policies that would help. Instead, she found obstacles. Unlike some other states, Virginia mostly forbids power purchase agreements, a solar financing model in which companies own the solar arrays they install on homes and charge homeowners for the power they use.

The state also limits the size of systems residents can build on their homes and caps the power generated by all Virginia residential arrays combined to no more than one percent of all power generated in the state. It also allows utilities to charge minimum monthly fees to solar users — even if the resident generates more power for the grid than they use.

Joy Loving’s solar installation in Rockingham County, Va. Photo courtesy of Joy Loving

Joy Loving’s solar installation in Rockingham County, Va. Photo courtesy of Joy Loving

Loving says all the obstacles to solar put in place by the state and politically powerful utilities irritated her. “It got my back up,” she says. “The freedom to choose my energy source was very important to me. I believe that I need to be a good steward of God’s creation, and this is one thing I can do positively to be a good steward.”

Even after her own system was installed, Loving kept reading and learning. “There was just nothing like the thrill of not having an electric bill,” she says. “I kind of got obsessive about it, checking the system and the power meter and watching what the system could do. After six or seven months, I thought ‘this is something that other people should know about.’”

She reached out to local/regional environmental group Climate Action of the Valley in Harrisonburg, Va. Leaders there ended up connecting with Virginia Solar United Neighborhoods, also known as VA SUN, which is a branch of the Community Power Network in Washington, D.C.

VA SUN helps solar co-op groups — usually collections of neighbors — by providing the experience and expertise it takes to get organized, research installers, issue a request for proposals, evaluate and negotiate with installers, and then see the process all the way through the installation and hookups.

Ben Delman, communications manager for Community Power Network, says the various state SUN groups in Appalachia — DC SUN, VA SUN, WV SUN and MD SUN — have helped around 1,000 people go solar across the region, with about a third of those in Virginia. According to Delman, when individuals organize into co-ops, they gain expertise and save money by negotiating bulk purchases.

Co-ops Accepting New Members

  • Richmond, Va.: Deadline April 30; For information, contact VA Sun Program Director Aaron Sutch, aaron@vasun.org
  • Tucker, Randolph and Upshur counties, W.Va.: No deadline yet
  • Monroe County, W.Va.: No deadline yet. For information on WV co-ops, contact WV Sun Program Director Karan Ireland, karan@wvsun.org

In addition to helping co-ops, Community Power Network has also supported groups that use the “Solarize” model, in which the installer is pre-selected rather than picked based on competitive bids.

After discussions with VA SUN, the Harrisonburg-based Climate Action of the Valley decided to sponsor a co-op in Harrisonburg and Rockbridge County. They asked Loving to lead it.

“Unfortunately, I didn’t know about co-ops when I installed [my system],” she says. “All the co-ops exploding around the state are like seeds — making people more aware and more informed about solar.”

According to Delman, the co-op experience generally works like this: “We start work with one or two local organizations — some sort of community group that can guide the process and begin recruiting co-op members.” The group holds a number of informational meetings during the recruitment phase. “We take them through understanding solar energy, the different ways to finance and help them understand the co-op process,” he says.

“In some ways, it’s the same as doing any home construction project,” Delman continues, “But how great would it be if you’re adding a deck or renovating a bathroom to be able to go through that with a group of people all doing the same thing?”

A critical mass of people interested in installing solar is necessary to move forward to the next step of actually reaching out to contractors. “Once a group gets to about 25 or 30 members, we work with them to issue a [request for proposal] to installers,” Delman says. Co-op members make the final decision. “We help group members review the bids, but it’s up to the selection committee to choose.”

Carl Droms, a member of Climate Action of the Valley, was a member of the Harrisonburg co-op’s selection committee. At that stage, there were 70 or 80 interested households, and about a dozen co-op members on the selection committee. “We all had different ideas about what was important and how to weigh the factors,” he says. “The price per watt — which included everything: panels, wiring, inverters, the electrical work, installation — was important, but there were other factors. Could the installer handle this number of installations and get things done in a reasonable time? Would they use local labor? What kind of guarantee did they offer? How much work had they done in the past?”
“In the end, we were pretty well agreed,” Droms says. “Everybody felt we made the right decision.”

Residents attend an info session for the Massanutten Regional Solar Co-op. Photo courtesy VA SUN

Residents attend an info session for the Massanutten Regional Solar Co-op. Photo courtesy VA SUN

The discount for a co-op member over an individual trying to buy their own solar power system is generally around 20 percent, Delman says. “It’s a good deal for the installers, as well,” he says. “To have a base of interested customers who are educated about solar is really good.”
Once an installer is selected, individuals in the co-op get a site inspection and, eventually, a contract for a system tailored to their individual needs at the agreed-to price. Co-op members aren’t obligated to buy unless they sign that contract.

Droms is very happy with the system he and his partner installed on their home. “Our total bill for the last year has been about $130 — and that includes a $9.50 a month fee just to stay connected to the grid,” he says. “We were really pleased with the co-op. If we had to negotiate everything ourselves, it would have been a lot more complicated.”

There’s not much of a downside to working through a co-op, says Cory Chase, a Tucker County, W. Va., resident who helped organize a co-op in his area. “WV SUN offers a lot of technical assistance that really helps. It might be a little more bureaucratic and slower than going on your own, but we’ll be able to help each other out, buy material in bulk and get a competitive bid,” he says.

According to WV SUN Program Director Karan Ireland, her organization has helped co-ops launch in the towns of Morgantown and Wheeling, and in Kanawha, Tucker and Monroe counties. “A co-op is like Solar 101,” she says. “It can be cumbersome if you’re trying to figure out everything by yourself. With the co-op, you work with friends and neighbors to learn about how to go solar.”

Like Loving, Ireland believes co-ops help create solar ambassadors. “As people understand the benefits of solar, they become invested in the policy as well,” she says. “Because they’re already working together, that creates a network of solar advocates.”

And solar advocates are needed, especially in states like Virginia and West Virginia where fossil fuel interests hold so much sway, says Mark Hanson, president of the Renewable Energy and Electric Vehicle Association, a do-it-yourself club in Roanoke, Va., that helps members with solar installations and other renewable energy projects.

“Our legislators don’t push the power companies to do the right thing,” Hanson says. “Power companies just see solar as a way for people not to pay for electricity. When it comes to legislators, the power companies pretty much get their way.”

Joy Loving says the co-op model is serving its purpose. “It has increased awareness of solar and gotten more press coverage,” she says. “People have heard about it. People see the panels going up and they talk. Co-ops will bring more people into the solar fold.”

Competition in Solar Power Challenges Utilities

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015 - posted by interns

A nonprofit’s solar project on a church in Greensboro, N.C., is testing the state’s utility regulations, and Duke Energy has called for steep fines. The project “begins to wrestle and engage with the monopolistic nature of Duke Energy,” said Rev. Nelson Johnson.

NC WARN, an environmental justice group, funded the solar panels in June and began selling the electricity to the Faith Community Church at a reduced rate, contesting a state law declaring that only utilities can sell renewable energy. The group submitted their case to the North Carolina Utilities Commission for review. In November, Duke Energy called for the organization to be fined $1,000 per day, which NC WARN Executive Director Jim Warren says could exceed $120,000.

In Virginia, the State Corporation Commission rejected a proposal by Dominion Virginia Power to build a 20-megawatt solar farm stating the utility did not convince regulators that allowing it to develop the project — instead of hiring a third party — was the best deal for ratepayers. Regulators sided with solar advocates who argued that tapping into the competition of the market could lower the cost customers pay for renewable power. — By Eliza Laubach

Driving on Sunshine

Thursday, October 15th, 2015 - posted by interns

Appalachia’s Solar Electric Vehicle Charging Company

Brightfield charging station in Asheville, N.C.

Brightfield charging station in Asheville, N.C.


Brightfield Transportation Solutions, an Asheville, N.C.-based company, has harnessed the world’s largest and longest transportation fuel pipeline. This nearly 93-million-mile wireless pipeline wasn’t constructed by a large corporation, isn’t causing a political fist fight, never leaks toxic substances and powers every living thing in Appalachia. Now thanks to Brightfield TS — with a lot of help from nature — the sun can power your electric automobile too.

Through its partnerships with automakers, electric vehicle support equipment manufacturers and policy groups, Brightfield TS is deploying solar electric vehicle charging stations across the Southeast, including North Carolina destinations such as Boone, Waynesville and Salisbury. Brightfield TS is now expanding its network of sun-powered fueling stations into Tennessee. To explore the benefits of driving electric vehicles on 200-proof Appalachian sunshine, visit BrightfieldTS.com/Solar-Driven-Calculator
— By Jeff Deal

Light Speed

Racing on the Sun

The Apperion solar-powered race car, photo courtesy of Appalachian State University.

The Apperion solar-powered race car, photo courtesy of Appalachian State University.


Students and faculty on the Solar Vehicle Team at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., have finished their construction of “Apperion,” a solar-powered racing vehicle.

The team has set their sights on the Formula Sun Grand Prix in July 2016. The race is a qualifying competition for the American Solar Challenge, a 1,200 to 1,800-mile race across North America. In October 2017 the team hopes to go to the World Solar Challenge in Australia to compete in the “cruiser class” race alongside cars designed for speeds up to 90 miles per hour.

The team is led by two faculty advisers working with 18 university undergraduate students from a diverse collection of disciplines. While winning races may be a goal for the solar vehicle team, their ultimate aspiration is to inspire people to live more sustainably and raise awareness of the impacts that individuals can make.
Learn more at appstatesvt.com
— By W. Spencer King

Electric Batteries in Motion

Reducing one’s carbon footprint is no easy feat, but the collective movement toward less environmentally harmful modes of transportation is growing, and growing with it is interest in creating more efficient electric car batteries.

The Kentucky-Argonne battery manufacturing center in Lexington, Ky., received a $120,000 grant from Ford in February 2014 for research and development on improved electric vehicle battery technology such as shorter production times, increased range and performance quality.

Researchers at North Carolina State University are developing technology to better estimate the amount of battery power a trip will use by analyzing the planned route a driver will take using GPS, and factoring in weather conditions and traffic patterns.

New technologies are also being developed to make recharging a battery more akin to refilling a conventional vehicle’s gas tank. A research team at the Illinois Institute of Technology is designing a battery that can be “refilled” in a matter of minutes, making long trips in electric vehicles more viable.
— By W. Spencer King

N.C. Solar Snapshot

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

by Lauren Essick
MontgomerySolar

A 20-megawatt solar farm under construction near Biscoe, N.C., covers 120 acres and is projected to power the equivalent of 3,500 homes when it is completed in November. The Montgomery County solar array, built by NC-based company O2 Energies EMC, will be grazed by sheep to reduce the need for mowers and synthetic pesticides.

At a July event at the construction site, Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.) spoke about the role of renewable energy development in making North Carolina economically competitive.

Groups Test Boundaries of N.C. Solar Laws

Thursday, July 30th, 2015 - posted by Laura Marion

By Julia Lindsay

In a direct challenge to North Carolina laws governing electricity sales, clean energy group NC WARN financed a 5.2-kilowatt solar project on the roof of Greensboro’s Faith Community Church and plans to sell the energy to the church for about half of Duke Energy’s solar rate.

Duke’s attorney cautioned that the project is prohibited by law, but said the utility would connect the solar array to its grid “in order to not inconvenience” the church. The state is one of four that forbid entities other than regulated monopolies from selling electricity to consumers.

NC WARN asked the state utilities commission to allow their direct sales to help the church sidestep upfront costs. The nonprofit has also backed N.C. House Bill 245, dubbed the Energy Freedom Act, a bipartisan measure that would legalize third party sales, which the organization says stimulate competition and incentivize energy companies to expand their renewables programs.

Duke Energy’s Robert Caldwell told news outlet Utility Dive that Duke welcomes the competition provided that the third parties “pay us what it costs to stay connected to our grid.”

North Carolina’s Complicated Road to Renewables

Monday, June 15th, 2015 - posted by Cody Burchett

As coal ash continues to plague communities across North Carolina, the state’s legislature is debating whether to invest in or put a freeze on renewable energy. The Energy Freedom Act, introduced by House Republicans, would allow third party solar sales in the state and has the potential to increase investments in solar energy. The bill has bipartisan support, as well as the backing of environmental groups and the military.

Another bill currently under consideration would extend North Carolina’s renewable energy tax credit, which has spurred residential and commercial investments in solar since its adoption in 1999. Despite the proven success of the tax credits, many N.C. legislators oppose renewing them.

Another bill, which was controversially moved through House committee, would roll back the 2007 requirement that North Carolina generate 12.5% of its power from renewable sources and energy efficiency to just 6%, the amount already achieved. Tech giants Google, Apple, and Facebook, all of which have North Carolina facilities, wrote a letter opposing the freeze as well as a provision in the bill that they say could also halt renewable energy investments. — Sarah Kellogg

Appalachian University Builds Home With Solar Flare

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014 - posted by Carvan

By Nolen Nychay

Appalachian State University, partnered with a French university, will be the sole representative of Appalachia’s green ingenuity in the third European Solar Decathlon. Kicking off June 28 in Versailles, France, the competition will pit 20 energy-independent houses built by collegiate teams against each other in a sustainable development showdown.

In 2011, Appalachian State, based in Boone, N.C., won the People’s Choice Award in the U.S. Solar Decathlon. This year’s team has tried to improve upon the best attributes of the last project for this year’s competition.

Image of the solar home

Appalachian State University’s net-zero energy home, shown above under construction in Boone, N.C., will compete in the 2014 European Solar Decathlon. The university’s Appalachian Energy Center offers green building and energy efficiency workshops for continuing education credit. Photo by Dudley Carter

The Appalachian team has dubbed their latest solar-powered home “Maison Reciprocity,” which is, at press time, being ferried across the Atlantic in six separate modules. These pieces will be reconstructed in the l’Orangerie gardens near the Palace of Versailles. Until then, the team is finalizing drawings, writing a comprehensive project manual and creating an interactive iPad application to complement the building.

The Team

Appalachian has partnered once again with the Université d’Angers in France to form Team Réciprocité, or “Team REC,” as they call themselves stateside. This is the most recent collaborative project between the two institutions, which have maintained an academic relationship for more than thirty years. After nearly two years of intense planning, fundraising and construction, the students of Team REC feel confident about their entry in this year’s competition.

“We are very lucky to have such a well-rounded and comprehensive [Appropriate Technology and Building Sciences] program here at App State,” says Mark Bridges, Appalachian Solar Decathlon communications manager.

“It makes the whole process so much easier when everyone speaks the same lingo and can collaborate creatively to make an airtight design.”

With the exception of a few faculty supervisors and consultants, Team REC is entirely student-run and managed.Twelve student officers oversee everything from construction and architecture to public relations and sponsorships.

The Design

In order to thoroughly calculate their carbon footprint, Team REC researched “cradle to the grave” life-cycle assessments for nearly every building material and technology they used. This meant looking at extraction and refining processes of raw materials, manufacturing emissions and even the mpg-rating of vehicles involved in transportation. The result? An affordable, high-quality and durable home with a tiny carbon footprint.

Student works on building

The Solar Decathlon is entirely student-driven, from design and construction to securing sponsorships. Photo by Dudley Carter

Maison Reciprocity is based on an urban, multi-level row house model. The first floor is reserved for commercial activities, the second and third floors are duplex family homes and the fourth level is a rooftop terrace under a renewable energy canopy. To meet the height regulations set forth by the Solar Decathlon however, the building being presented in Versailles will include only two floors.

In their designs, Team REC utilized the German Passivhaus building concept — a popular trend in energy-efficient European construction. This meant making the entire house exceptionally well-insulated and heated naturally by the sun with intelligently positioned glass panes.

Inspired by Austria’s 2013 Solar Decathlon team, Team REC used continuous insulation throughout the building to create an “Urban Shell.” “By using cross-laminated timbers to support the structural walls, insulation is uninterrupted by thermal bridges such as studs, joists or rafters,” says Chuck Perry, general contractor for Team REC. The use of these cross-laminated timbers in no way hinders the overall strength of the building, which is built to withstand 85 mph hurricane winds.

This, in conjunction with using a two-layer roof insulator of polyiso-foam and mineral wool, greatly reduces any unwanted heat transfer to the inside of the house. Heat transference both in and out of windows is also minimized through the use of Eastman Chemical Company’s Heat Mirror® insulating glass. This relatively new technology uses lightweight chemical films to allow the glass panes to insulate more efficiently. The 99.5 percent filtration of harmful UV rays is an added bonus.

Maison Reciprocity features a renewable energy canopy called the “Living Brise-Soleil,” French for sun-visor, where the home’s photovoltaic and solar-thermal arrays are attached. The canopy provides all of the building’s electricity and heated water with kilowatts to spare. The canopy will also sport a living wall of vegetation beneath the arrays to promote passive cooling of the photovoltaics and the building itself.

At the heart of the design is the “Container for High-performance Operation, Recirculation and Distribution,” or CHORD, module. This central module houses all of the building’s electrical, mechanical and plumbing components for easy access and servicing.

Maison Reciprocity’s urban-focused design allows multiple units to stack side-by-side, creating attractive neighborhood communities within dense, metropolitan areas where real estate is more expensive. The design is wildly space efficient compared to the typical stand-alone home of the American suburbs.

“Our target market for this design is downtown Winston-Salem,” Bridges says. “Elegantly simple and functional, we wanted this build to mimic the community-oriented row houses of the 1960s, but with a much stronger emphasis on energy efficiency.” The design could also provide affordable and sustainable housing in some of Europe’s more overcrowded cities, according to François Thibault, Faculty Director at the Université d’Angers.

The Competition

The biennial Solar Decathlon in Europe is modeled on a competition of the same name started by the U.S. Department of Energy in 2002. Both events offer the opportunity for students and experts to share their knowledge and research on renewable energy and green architecture.

The objective of the two Solar Decathlons is to design and build a solar home that is energy independent and economically prudent. The decision to hold this year’s competition in Versailles — home of the Sun King, Louis XIV — is ironically appropriate.

A panel of international experts will judge each team’s solar home. Teams can earn 100 points in ten individual categories including architecture, engineering, energy balance and affordability.

The competing solar homes will be open for public tours during the decathlon and anyone may submit a vote for the People’s Choice Award. The nine-day competition will culminate on July 6 when the official winners are announced. “When you’ve worked as hard as we have on something like this, you don’t get nervous,” Bridges says. “You get really excited.”

For more information about Team REC and Maison Reciprocity, visit reciprocity2014.com

GREEN BUILDING: Local to Global Perspective

By Nolen Nychay

  • Middle Tennessee State University and Vanderbilt University are working on a joint project for the 2015 Solar Decathlon in Irvine, Calif., that will balance the spacious comforts of Southern living and modern efficiency technology. West Virginia University and Italy’s University of Roma Tor Vergata are also competing and will bring a flare of traditional Roman architecture with a unique arch design and a solar chimney for passive cooling.
  • Habitat for Humanity has partnered with EarthCraft Virginia to build greener homes at affordable prices in the greater Richmond, Va., area. EarthCraft technicians work on-site with builders and volunteers to ensure new homes achieve 30-35 percent more energy efficiency than a standard home.
  • University of Tennessee Knoxville students researching potential uses for undried oak won a $90,000 grant this year from the EPA P3 contest for sustainability. Nicknamed “green oak” for being a carbon-friendly wood product, undried oak is commonly used to make cheap wood pallets. The students’ full-scale building prototype demonstrated the capabilities of green oak as a sound building material.
  • The city of Paris, France, began construction this year on “Tour Triangle,” a highly sustainable skyscraper shaped like a pyramid. The 600-foot tall glass structure will use mostly natural light and solar capture technology to achieve a CO2 footprint a quarter the size of comparable skyscrapers.
  • The Royal Seaport of Stockholm, Sweden, is ramping up to build 10,000 new homes and 30,000 offices using recycled and renewable materials by 2025. By 2030, the entire district is projected to be fossil-fuel free and have a positive impact on the regional climate.