Green Building News

Green Building News November 2009

November 2, 2009

2009 Solar Decathlon Winners Announced

Winners of the 2009 Department of Energy Solar Competition on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. have been announced. Team Germany, the student team from Darmstadt, Germany, won top honors by designing, building and operating the most attractive and efficient solar-powered home. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took second place followed by Team California in third place.

The Solar Decathlon lasted for a week, with the prototype home designs open to the public. Team Germany’s winning “Cube House” design produced a surplus of power even during three days of rain. This is the team’s second-straight victory, after winning the previous competition in 2007.

“This competition to build zero carbon homes has been a tremendous undertaking and we have seen terrific efforts by all the teams,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said. “The ingenuity that comes from individual effort is the promise of our future.”

Over a period of two weeks, the 2009 Solar Decathlon challenged 20 university-led teams from the United States and as far away as Spain, Germany and Canada to compete in 10 contests, ranging from subjective elements such as architecture, market viability, communications, lighting design and engineering, to technical measurements of how well the homes provided energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, home entertainment, appliances and net metering.

New to this year’s competition, the Net Metering Contest was worth 150 points towards the final results and was the most heavily weighted contest. It challenged teams to generate surplus energy, above and beyond the power needed to run a house, which they fed into a power grid.

Team Germany earned 908.29 points out of a possible 1,000 to win the competition, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with 897.30 points and Team California with 863.08 points.

Solar Decathlon Individual Contest Winners:


In the Appliances Contest, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned the most points based on keeping a refrigerator and freezer cold, washing and drying 10 loads of laundry during the contest week and washing dishes in a dishwasher five times during the competition – all on electricity generated only from sunlight. The team scored 93.53 out of 100 possible points.


Team California took first place in the Architecture contest and earned 98 points out of a possible 100. A jury of architects judged homes on the aesthetic and functional elements of the home’s design, ease of circulation among the public and private areas, integration of various spaces into a holistic design, generosity and sufficiency of space in the house and the house’s design surprises meant to inspire visitors.

Comfort Zone

Team Germany topped the contestants in the Comfort Zone contest, with 92 out of 100 points for maintaining indoor temperatures between 72 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 40 percent and 55 percent.


Team California’s communications efforts, including communications plans, student-led tours and team Web site, were judged best by the jury of Web site and public relations experts with a score of 69.75 points out of a possible 75 points.


The University of Minnesota won the Engineering contest, which was evaluated by a group of prominent engineers, who determined which solar home best exemplified excellence in energy systems design, energy-efficiency savings, creative innovations in design and reliability of energy systems. The University of Minnesota scored 96 out of a possible 100 points.

Home Entertainment

The Home Entertainment contest required students to use electricity generated by their solar houses to run interior and exterior lights, a TV, a computer and a kitchen appliance to boil water. Teams were also required to hold two dinner parties and a movie night for neighbors. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned 92.62 out of a possible 100 points.

Hot Water

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned the maximum 100 points in the Hot Water contest’s “shower tests,” which aimed to deliver 15 gallons of hot water in ten minutes or less. Of course, the water was heated by the sun.

Lighting Design

The University of Minnesota was named the winner of the Lighting contest where teams earned points based on an evaluation by a jury of lighting design experts. Jurors toured each house to evaluate the aesthetics, innovations, energy efficiency, user-friendliness, flexibility and performance of the teams’ lighting designs. The University of Minnesota earned 72 points out of a possible 75 points.

Market Viability

The University of Louisiana at Lafayette won the Market Viability contest, which evaluated whether the cost-effective construction and solar technology in a team’s design would create a viable product on the open market. Judges gauged market appeal based on three criteria: livability, feasibility of construction and marketability. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette earned 97 points out of a possible 100 as judged by the professional jury.

Net Metering

Team Germany took the top spot in the crucial, 150-point Net Metering contest. Teams were awarded 100 points if the energy supplied to their home’s two-way electrical meter registered zero or less after all of the energy demands of the contest week. Each house in the 2009 Solar Decathlon was connected to a power grid and equipped with a meter that measured both its consumption and production of energy. When a team’s meter showed a negative number, the home had generated surplus energy – worth up to 50 additional points. Team Germany scored a perfect 150 points in this contest.

The application process for the next Solar Decathlon, to be held in fall 2011, has already begun.


Expanding Green Jobs And Energy Savings For Middle Class Families

Vice President Biden has just unveiled Recovery Through Retrofit, a report that builds on the foundation laid in the Recovery Act to expand green job opportunities and boost energy savings by making homes more energy efficient.

At a Middle Class Task Force meeting earlier this year, the Vice President asked the White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) to develop a proposal for Federal action to lay the groundwork for a self-sustaining home energy efficiency retrofit industry. In response, CEQ facilitated a broad interagency process with the Office of the Vice President, eleven Departments and Agencies and six White House Offices to develop recommendations for how to use existing authority and funding to accomplish this goal. These recommendations are described in detail in the Recovery Through Retrofit report.

"This report builds on the foundation laid in the Recovery Act to expand green job and business opportunities for the middle class while ensuring that the energy efficiency market will thrive for years to come," said Nancy Sutley, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "An aggressive program to retrofit American homes and businesses will create more work, more savings and better health for middle class Americans."

Existing techniques and technologies in energy efficiency retrofitting can reduce energy use by up to 40 percent per home and lower total associated greenhouse gas emissions by up to 160 million metric tons annually. Retrofitting existing homes also has the potential to cut home energy bills by $21 billion annually. Yet, despite the real energy cost savings and environmental benefits associated with improving home energy efficiency, a series of barriers have prevented a self-sustaining retrofit market from forming. These barriers include a lack of access to information, financing and skilled workers.

The recommendations and actions in this Report have been carefully designed to help overcome these barriers and to leverage Recovery Act funding to help ensure that the energy efficiency market will thrive long after the Recovery Act money is fully spent.

Some recommendations in the report include:

  • Provide American Homeowners with Straightforward and Reliable Home Energy Retrofit Information: Consumers need consistent, accessible and trusted information that provides a reliable benchmark of energy efficiency and sound estimates of the costs and benefits of home energy retrofits.
  • Reduce High Upfront Costs, Making Energy Retrofits More Accessible: Access to retrofit financing should be more transparent, more accessible, repayable over a longer time period and more consumer-friendly.
  • Establish National Workforce Certifications and Training Standards: A uniform set of national standards to qualify energy efficiency and retrofit workers and industry training providers will establish the foundation of consumer confidence that work will be completed correctly and produce the expected energy savings and benefits. Such standards should incorporate healthy and environmentally friendly housing principles, as outlined in the report titled, the Surgeon General's Call to Action To Promote Healthy Homes (2009).

Proper certification and training standards will ensure that retrofitted homes are healthy homes. Consistent high-level national standards will spur the utilization of qualified training providers that offer career-track programs for people of all skill levels, promote and expand green jobs opportunities and facilitate the mobilization of a national home retrofit workforce.

The Department of Energy also announced $454 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for energy efficiency efforts nationwide.

The Department is now accepting applications for a new $390 million "Retrofit Ramp-Up" program that will deploy innovative approaches to energy efficiency building retrofits. These Recovery Act funds will help create new partnerships to deliver energy bill savings to entire neighborhoods and towns. Bringing energy retrofits to whole neighborhoods at a time will simplify the process for homeowners and significantly reduce costs. When applied on a national scale, the program could save billions of dollars annually in utility bills for households and businesses and create thousands of jobs across the country. In addition, the Energy Department announced $64 million in energy efficiency funding for cities, counties and Indian tribes.

"The Retrofit Ramp-Up initiative is designed to slice through the barriers identified in this report - inconvenience, lack of information and lack of financing - and to make energy efficiency easy and accessible to all," said Secretary Chu. "We want to make our communities more energy efficient, block by block, neighborhood by neighborhood—eventually expanding to entire cities and states. We can literally bring energy efficiency to the doorsteps of the American people."

Separately, the Department of Energy will accept state proposals to use State Energy Grant or Energy Efficiency Conservation Block Grant funds for Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) pilots. This is an innovative model which allows communities to provide financing to homeowners to install renewable energy systems and retrofit buildings that can be paid off over time on their property tax bills. The White House announced a "Policy Framework for PACE Financing Programs" developed through an interagency process to ensure that effective homeowner and lender safeguards are included in PACE programs.

Mitsubishi Develops New Rooftop Solar Unit

The Seven Ryoju Estate Group Companies, including Ryoju Estate Co. of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries group, recently announced that they have developed a rooftop unit called the "Eco Sky Roof," which combines photovoltaic generation and solar heat recovery, in cooperation with OM Solar Co., and will start selling it from the middle of October 2009.

The product combines a tandem solar panel and solar system, which secures an air-flow path between the solar panel and the roof surface. Using the flow air, it recovers heat from the solar panel side, generating electricity and hot air. By recovering the heat, it can then be used for household heating and hot water supply. The rise of temperature at the back of the solar panel is limited, and generating efficiency is likely to be reduced very little.

Considering that the use of solar heat at the installation space for the solar energy generation unit, which has an output of three kilowatts, the product can supply the energy equivalent of four kilowatts of solar battery and improve the use efficiency of solar energy. During the test, it was verified that 65 percent of energy consumption in each household could be replaced by solar energy.

The group has designed the unit so that housing contractors can easily install the Eco Roof system, and they aim to expand the sales to 500 households, mainly to new homes during fiscal year 2010.


Sharp Develops Triple-Junction Compound Solar Cell

Sharp Corporation announced it has achieved a solar cell conversion efficiency of(1) 35.8 percent(2) using a triple-junction compound solar cell.

Unlike silicon-based solar cells, the most common type of solar cell in use today, the compound solar cell utilizes photo-absorption layers made from compounds consisting of two or more elements such as indium and gallium. Due to their high conversion efficiency, compound solar cells are used mainly on space satellites. Since 2000, Sharp has been advancing research and development on a triple-junction compound solar cell that achieves high conversion efficiency by stacking three photo-absorption layers.

To boost the efficiency of triple-junction compound solar cells, it is important to improve the crystallinity (the regularity of the atomic arrangement) in each photo-absorption layer (the top, middle and bottom layer). It is also crucial that the solar cell be composed of materials that can maximize the effective use of solar energy.

Conventionally, Ge (germanium) is used as the bottom layer due to its ease of manufacturing. However, in terms of performance, although Ge generates a large amount of current, the majority of the current is wasted, without being used effectively for electrical energy. The key to solving this problem was to form the bottom layer from InGaAs (indium gallium arsenide), a material with high light utilization efficiency. However, the process to make high-quality InGaAs with high crystallinity was difficult.

Sharp has now succeeded in forming an InGaAs layer with high crystallinity by using its proprietary technology for forming layers. As a result, the amount of wasted current has been minimized, and the conversion efficiency, which had been 31.5 percent in Sharp’s previous cells, has been successfully increased to 35.8 percent.

Sharp achieved this breakthrough as part of a research and development initiative promoted by Japan’s New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO)(3) on the theme of “R&D on Innovative Solar Cells”.

(1) As of October 22, 2009, for non-concentrator solar cells at the research level (based on Sharp survey).

(2) Conversion efficiency confirmed by the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST; one of the organizations around the world that officially certifies energy conversion efficiency measurements in solar cells) in September 2009. (Cell surface: approx. 1 cm2)

(3) The New Energy and Industrial Technology Development Organization (NEDO) is Japan’s public management organization for promoting research and development as well as for disseminating industrial, energy and environmental technologies.

UL Environment Announces Validation of First “Green” Product Claims

UL Environment Inc. has validated environmental claims for Serious Materials’ new drywall product, EcoRock™. This represents the first validation of claims by UL Environment, and the first product in the 115-year history of Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to receive an Environmental Claims Validation. UL Environment is a wholly-owned subsidiary of UL, a world leader in product safety testing services.

UL Environment validated Serious Materials’ environmental claims for EcoRock by performing audits, assessments and laboratory tests. The UL Environment process validated the following environmental claims for EcoRock: 80 percent recycled content, low VOC emissions (meets CA 01350), no mercury detected and highly resistant to mold.

“As sustainable products become more available, third-party validation of claims by credible organizations like UL Environment will be crucial to eliminating exaggerated green marketing claims,” said Steve Wenc, President, UL Environment Inc. “UL Environment applies solid science and more than a century of testing expertise to protect consumers from vague, false or misleading environmental claims.”

Serious Materials completely reengineered the manufacturing and ingredients of drywall with the introduction of EcoRock, a green alternative to gypsum drywall. EcoRock is used like standard gypsum drywall, but requires 80 percent less energy in its core production. Its manufacturing process eliminates heaters, dryers, calcining and the burning of fossil fuels. Using EcoRock instead of gypsum drywall would eliminate up to 20 billion pounds of CO2 emissions per year in North America.

UL Environment applies a rigorous, independent testing process to the testing of environmental claims and allows manufacturers that successfully pass the tests to apply the UL Environment service logo on product packaging and marketing materials. This not only protects consumers, institutions and businesses, it also reinforces the credibility of companies that produce products with substantiated environmental claims. Validation also helps companies differentiate themselves in the increasingly crowded “green” product space.


Corporate Water Footprinting - Dec. 2-3

The Corporate Water Footprinting conference and exhibition takes place in San Francisco this December. Attendees will hear experts in water stewardship outline the risks and opportunities water poses to business as well as offer practical advice on mapping and reducing water consumption in products and across the supply chain. There will be in-depth discussions on new methodologies and standards for water footprinting as well as how companies are addressing water issues at a strategic level.

More information.


National GreenBuilding Conference - December 2-3

The National GreenBuilding Conference will be held concurrently with the 21st annual Construct Canada, PM Expo, HomeBuilder & Renovator Expo, DesignTrends and Concrete Canada at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre South Building.

The National GreenBuilding Conference will focus on all aspects of green design, construction, retrofit and maintenance leading to high performance buildings, and will examine best practices and project delivery models that result in more efficient methods of designing sustainability into any project.

More information.


Ecobuild America - Dec. 7-10

Sustainable, green and high performance solutions for the built environment. Produced by AEC Science & Technology and held at the Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., this unique conference and exhibit not only introduces new strategies and materials to create high performance, sustainable structures, but also the technology to do it faster and more profitably.

Attendees include the entire project team from architects and owners, to facility managers, specifiers who want to learn to better design, specify and manage their projects to be sustainable and smart. Targeted training is available for commercial, industrial, government and residential AEC (architecture, engineering and construction) professionals as well as educators.

More information.

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First place winner: Team Germany, from Darmstadt