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Solar Decathlon Design Places People and the Outdoors at its Heart

May 26, 2011 - 5:57pm

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Members of Team New Zealand | Courtesy of the New Zealand team's Flickr photostream

Members of Team New Zealand | Courtesy of the New Zealand team's Flickr photostream

In honor of the U.S  Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon -- which challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive -- we are profiling each of the 20 teams participating in the competition.

New Zealand is the first place morning light hits at the start of each new day -- and now it is home to the first team from the Southern Hemisphere ever to compete in the Solar Decathlon competition.

The team, comprised of students and faculty from Victoria University of Wellington, have looked to revamp an iconic symbol of New Zealand’s beach holiday lifestyle -- the modest coastal "Kiwi bach."

Dotted along New Zealand’s coastline lie thousands of cherished summer homes called bach (pronounced batch). Traditionally small and spare -- these homes were made for summertime on the beach, where life takes place as much outside as it does inside.

By incorporating energy-efficient design strategies to keep energy consumption at a minimum, the team hopes to redefine what the bach symbolizes not only as the ideal way to enjoy summers but also as a model of sustainable home design.

While the traditional bach is meant to be enjoyed during the warmer months -- the Victoria Team’s home, which they've named the First Light house, is intended for year-round living. To ensure the interior stays comfortable regardless of weather conditions, the walls are kept insulated with locally-sourced wool insulation made from sheep fibers.

An external canopy on the rooftop houses a solar water heater as well as polycrystalline solar panels durable enough to withstand harsh coastal storms. LED lights are used both inside and outside, and a centrally-paced skylight supplements with daylighting.

With the challenging work of construction complete, the home now sits along the Wellington Waterfront -- open for tours to the public. And, judging by a recent post on the team’s blog, the revamped bach is drawing a lot of attention, “It’s wowing its thousands of visitors…Even though it’s Autumn here in New Zealand -- wind, rain, fog and sunshine all in one day -- there were queues of patient people.”

Soon enough, the team will have to prepare for the long (literally) journey ahead of packing up and shipping the home all the way to Washington, D.C. But for now, they can enjoy sharing with their fellow New Zealanders, their clean energy take on a time-honored tradition.

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