Students show how to heat, cool, watch TV electric bill-free

By , Computerworld |  Green IT, Alternative energy, energy consumption

WASHINGTON -- The 20 suburban houses standing this week on the National Mall are demonstrating the use of alternative energy systems. One of many interesting aspects of this government-sponsored project is how IT is used to manage and monitor energy consumption via iPhone apps and Web interfaces. The end results are remarkable.

Undergraduate students from Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley, for instance, have built a solar powered house that monitors and measures every aspect of energy generation and consumption. The house produces 150% more energy than it uses, making it a net supplier of electricity to the power company.

Along with solar energy and computerized management technologies, these houses put a lot emphasis on things like blinds and shades for directing light.

Some of the homes are costly, but mass production could make them affordable in many housing markets. And affordability only improves once the cost of living without an electric bill, or the price of oil for a furnace, is considered.

A Canadian team , for instance, made up of three universities, says it has built a house that can produce about double the amount of energy its occupants consume.

"I don't think people realize we can build that," said Lauren Barhydt, the team's program manager, and a graduate student in architecture at the University of Waterloo. Students from Ryerson University in Toronto, Ontario, and Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, British Columbia, are also involved.

The Canadian entry in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon is designed for the snowy north and its physical appearance defies the conventional look of housing in cold climates. Its windows are floor to ceiling, creating a loft-like, cube shape, open structure.

But the windows are as sturdy as a normal Canadian stud wall that doesn't allow heat to escape. The house includes salt-hydrate packets under the floor that absorb heat, with the help of sunlight directed by blinds that is released as the temperature cools. The construction includes solar panels on the side so the building can capture light from low angles, another aspect of northern climates, said Lauren.

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