Solar decathlon, JOBS solar project… see what’s happening Across Appalachia

ASU in the Running for Solar Decathlon

By Jesse Wood

Appalachian State University displayed their Solar Decathlon 2011 Design Development Model at the International Builders\' Show in Orlando, Florida from January 12-15, 2011. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Students at Appalachian State University are striving to be shining examples of sustainability by building the best model home on the planet.

ASU’s Solar Homestead team is one of 20 universities from around the globe competing in this year’s U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, the world’s largest green building competition.

Schools in the competition have seven months to construct a 1,000 square foot home, which will be on display next fall at the National Mall in Washington D.C. The bi-annual event attracted over 400,000 people two years ago.

There is no prize for the winner — only bragging rights — although each of the 20 schools selected for the competition receive, over the course of the project, a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy. Because schools are not able to use the grant for building materials, ASU is using the money to fund research and pay participating students.

Appropriate Technology and Building Science students wrote the original proposal, but participating students come from a variety of disciplines, such as physics, business, communications, graphic design and computer programming. Over 150 ASU students are involved in the project.

In 2009, ASU began designing their solar model, and in March they started full-scale construction of the homestead. The team’s design concept is based on the ingenuity and independence of the original Appalachian settlers.

“We took this traditional homesteading idea, where you have this self-sufficient collection of buildings working together — spring house, smoke house, chicken coup and your living quarters,” said David Lee, ASU graduate student and Solar Homestead communications manager. “We took that idea and related it to solar power and technology and modern sustainable living.”

ASU’s Solar Homestead consists of a core house with a separate 120 square-foot guest/office quarters. There is also an outdoor deck covered with a canopy that holds the majority of the solar panels.

The ASU team is using bifacial photovoltaic panels, which collect reflective light on the top and bottom of the solar thermal panels while acting as a skylight.

The houses will be judged on affordability, aesthetics and the ease of livability. The structure must have adequate lighting, be able to power electronics, provide hot water and maintain comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions. Also, the house must produce as much solar power as it consumes.

This year’s competition features an affordability component to the contest for the first time; in 2009, Team Germany constructed a house appraised at $1.5 million. Teams receive 100 percent of available affordability points if they keep their house under $250,000.

“It is really hard to get these points because you are trying to get the latest energy efficient technology and balance affordability,” Lee said. “It is tough, but that is what American homebuyers have to do.”

Lee and his colleagues would love to win the contest, but that is only their short-term goal.

“I think the long term goal is to show people that you can have energy efficient building with sustainable materials and renewable energy systems,” Lee said. “These three things are attainable and affordable now.”

For more information or to take a virtual tour of their design click to

Jobs Project Installs 46 Panel Solar System in W.Va.

By Jeff Deal

This winter, a crew of electricians and construction workers — several with experience working in coal mines — worked to bring the green economy and solar electricity to a town long known as the “Heart of the Billion Dollar Coalfield.” On February 3, a team from West Virginia’s Mountain View Solar and Wind installed 46 high-performance solar electric panels on the roof of a Williamson, W.Va., doctor’s office. The 11-kilowatt (kW) solar electric system will sit atop the roof of the Williamson Family Care Center, on a building owned by Dr. Dino Beckett.

The installation highlighted Williamson’s “Solar Week,” a four-day green jobs training and education event convened by town mayor Darrin McCormick, The JOBS Project, representatives from the region’s community and technical colleges, electricians, contractors, business owners and residents, as well as community-developed renewable energy pioneer, The Appalachian Institute for Renewable Energy (AIRE). The installation used solar electric panels made by the American employees of SolarWorld, the largest and most experienced U.S. manufacturer of crystalline silicon solar electric technology.

“With this project, local electricians are learning job skills while receiving $45 an hour,” said Eric Mathis, executive director of The JOBS Project, a non-profit organization working to bring sustainable job options to West Virginia. “An area that has up to this point summarily rejected all things not coal opens up its arms, eyes and skies to a broader view of energy and its role in it. Plus, the groundwork is laid for hundreds of projects like it. That’s significant.”

Shaping the Future of Wildlife Protection

The National Wildlife Refuge Association is asking for public comment on a draft revision plan to guide the growth and management of America’s wildlife over the next ten years. Currently, over 553 wildlife refuges provide 150 million acres of habitat for more than 750 animal and plant species in the United States. Thirty-five of these wildlife refuges are in the central Appalachian region — North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee. Become a part of the action by visiting

New Grant to Study Pines

Virginia Tech was recently awarded part of a $20 million dollar National Institute of Food and Agriculture grant to study the effects of climate change on southern pine forests. With this grant, researchers will study changes and adaptation of trees like the loblolly and develop a plan to improve the health and productivity for southern pines. This tree species covers an area of 34 million acres and sequesters 12 billion metric tons of carbon each year.

Affording Hope through Environmental Dance

Human experience with the environment is intertwined with passion and responsibility. Leaps and Bounds is a multi-layered art performance that joins themes of faith, ecology and the economy, compelling the audience to reflect on the relationship that humans have with the earth. This one-woman performance, presented by artist Tevyn East, incorporates storytelling, song, poetry, prayer, movement and music. Leaps and Bounds, a presentation of East’s Affording Hope project, will be presented at the Watauga High School in Boone N.C., on April 20 and at Jubilee in Asheville, N.C., on April 22. Visit

Hydrofracking Diesel Injections at it again

New inquiries discovered the continued use of diesel fuel injections in hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” — a drilling process which pumps large volumes of water into the earth to loosen up shale rock and release natural gas. The use of diesel in hydrofracking was not considered a violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act until last year, yet the EPA has not enforced monitoring standards since that change. Visit

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