Pittsburgh Synergy gears up for the Solar Decathlon

Imagine a house powered by the sun: heating, cooling, cooking, everything. A team of CMU architects, designers, and various other majors are making this happen by building a sustainable house to run on solar energy. In this optimal home, the electricity generated by the sun is a renewable power source for every energy need.
CMU?s Pittsburgh Synergy group will be competing in the Solar Decathalon, an international competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy?s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. The competition will bring together
18 colleges and universities from around the globe to compete in a sustainable design project. On September 28, teams will transport their entries to Washington, D.C., where they will construct a ?solar village? on the National Mall. Teams will be judged on the build, design, and efficiency of their solar-powered homes.
Pittsburgh Synergy?s building has two sections. Entry is through its Great Room, the main living area where
people can eat, work, and watch television. Alternatively, the Service Core portion of the building is located in the back. This section houses the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and mechanical space. The mechanical room is where monitoring equipment for the photovoltaic (PV) panels are located. They monitor how much energy PVs gather during the day verses how much energy is being spent. An exterior system above the house, called ?the Eye,? localizes all mechanical systems: absorption chiller, portable water supply, photovoltaic array, and solar thermal array.
Professor Steven Lee has played a critical role as the team?s advisor. Lee has taught five courses on the project and supervised the building?s construction over the summer. Says Lee on his role in the construction and teaching: ?I can influence the future of architecture by being a positive role model and getting students involved in what I think is critical in saving the planet.? What each student takes out of the project ? whether architect, designer, or otherwise ? is up to him or her.
Building this house was a great opportunity to utilize local resources. Essential materials, including the window systems and high insulation panels, were donated by local companies. Local union carpenters, electricians, steam fitters, operating engineers, and concrete finishers also offered their hands during the various stages of the process. The project was termed Pittsburgh Synergy because of this support of the Pittsburgh community: ?This term has come to symbolize our relationship with local manufacturers,? says team manager Jeremy Forsythe. ?The construction of our solar-powered house could have never been done without their help and talent.?
Even with windfalls like local support, obstacles faced the team at all turns. The project has cost approximately $400,000 in total. However, the team is only provided with $5000 to begin, along with a truck to transport the house to Washington.
The building must be easy to reconstruct, as well, because it must be taken apart for transport. The final competition allows five days for assembly on the National Mall. As a result, the team had to utilize the ?plug and play? concept: Pieces of the house can be literally plugged together so that all parts have electricity and heating.
This project has been a great learning experience for those involved, according to students. ?This has been a great opportunity to implement ideas we?ve learned in school,? says Forsythe. ?The most exciting moment is seeing something you?ve envisioned unfold into a reality.?
Finding alternative energy sources has become a serious pursuit in recent years in light of the energy crisis due to fossil fuel depletion. ?The reason why I love this project is because as a
country we are so wasteful of energy, and utilizing solar energy will eliminate the dependence on fossil fuels from overseas,? says Ann Roy, a team member. ?We are creating a language that really applies to sustainable design.?