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Solar Decathlon Competition: The UK S•KY Blue Team

January 7, 2010   |   Faculty, School, Projects, Students

In January 2008, the University of Kentucky was one of 20 university-led teams from around the world selected to compete in the United States Department of Energy (DOE) 2009 Solar Decathlon. This was the fourth time the impressive Solar Decathlon has been held and the first time UK has applied to participate.
The 20 teams chosen to compete were asked to create and send an 800-square-foot or less solar-powered house, built by students on their home campus, to the National Mall. Each team’s house was evaluated in the competition, running Oct. 9-18, in 10 specific areas: architecture, engineering, market viability, lighting design, communications, comfort, appliances, hot water, energy balance and home entertainment.

UK’s team members not only designed their house, but fabricated many of its custom elements including the building’s structure, which presented students with the unique opportunity to work alongside metal fabricators at the AMRL (Agriculture Machinery Research Laboratory).

“We’ve been taking the textbook literally out of the classroom and bringing the students to this new type of classroom, into what I would call a living-learning laboratory,” said Gregory Luhan, one of the principal investigators leading the team.
The UK design presented an optimized living and learning environment that engaged the landscape through an integrated design approach that demonstrated a range of site-flexible and contextual solutions for living under the sun today. The house makes strong reference to Kentucky’s passive architectural roots and integrates forward-thinking innovations into a design based upon an open and porous loft concept anchored by the home’s hearth, the kitchen core, and a series of outdoor spaces that envelope the house. A breezeway design blends the beauty, simplicity and passivity of various elements of Kentucky vernacular architecture with modern elements ranging from its furniture to Shaker-style built-in cabinetry, wall-integrated folding tables and chairs to active energy-efficient systems and technologies including an LED illuminated perforated cladding system.

The SKY BLUE House structure was designed to allow for very quick setup and occupancy. Several unique features include: rainwater harvesting systems, fixed and single-axis tracking arrays, PV cooling, electronically tintable glass in non-shaded areas, super high-efficient appliances, a reverse cycle heat pump, demand controlled ventilation for indoor air quality control, and an Automatic Weather Adaptive Response Energy (AWARE) control system, which optimizes the energy flows in the house based upon zip-code-specific weather forecasts.

The University of Kentucky SKY BLUE solar house team was an interdisciplinary group comprised of students, faculty and staff from six colleges and 16 centers and departments within UK. The team was led by two principal investigators, Donald Colliver, professor of biosystems and agricultural engineering at the College of Agriculture, and Gregory Luhan, associate dean for research at the College of Design, as well as faculty from the College of Communications and Information Studies and College of Engineering.

Utilizing an interdisciplinary team from across campus, the UK team was able to capitalize on numerous university resources.

“To bring all these leaders (from the individual colleges) together to sit at the table and have a common goal to build a house that celebrates living under the sun today in Kentucky really became a fantastic device to come up with what is going to amount to hopefully an award-winning solution for Kentucky,” commented Luhan.
On October 16, 2009 U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman announced the winners of the 2009 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The University of Kentucky’s SKY BLUE House placed ninth in the competition.