Israeli ‘green dream team’ hopes to sweep ‘environmental Olympics’

Academics from Israel will build a house which produces more energy than it consumes as their project in next year’s Solar Decathlon

Computer model of the Israeli entry to the Solar Decathlon contest (Photo credit: Courtesy)
Computer model of the Israeli entry to the Solar Decathlon contest (Photo credit: Courtesy)

An Israeli team has for the first time qualified for what is considered one of the world’s most prestigious environmental technology competitions: the US sponsored Solar Decathlon, a biennial contest sponsored by the US Department of Energy. Teams from around the world will gather to present designs and models for the “house of the future” — a house that produces more energy than it consumes.

In the case of the Israeli team, however, the entry will actually be a modern take on a “house of the past.” The Israeli entry, according to team members, “is inspired by the typical Iron Age Israelite ‘four-room house,’ examples of which have been excavated at various archaeological sites in modern-day Israel and around the Levant area.”

The house, a single-family dwelling, will be built around an open patio, providing ventilation and light. The design stresses the connection of the indoor and the outdoor spaces, the home’s designers said, “increasing our awareness of the environment and reducing energy and resource dependence.”

First held in 2002, the Decathlon has taken place in the US every other year. The next Decathlon, however, will be held in China, after an agreement on the matter between the US and China last year. Twenty teams from around the world — including teams from Iran and Turkey — will be participating in the Decathlon finals next August.

An Israeli team almost made it to a Solar Decathlon — not the American one, but the European one — which is held in the alternating year that the US contest is not held. In 2009, an Israeli team from Ariel University was named as a finalist at the European event — but were disqualified by host country Spain for political reasons.

The purpose of the contest, which is open to teams from universities and colleges around the world, is to encourage teams to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Contestants actually build a model of their design, which is put on display at the location where the contest is held. Awards are granted for designs that make the best use of solar energy in each of 10 categories including architecture, market appeal, engineering, affordability, appliances, home entertainment, and energy balance.

It’s that last category that the Israeli team, composed of students and faculty from nearly a dozen Israeli academic institutions, are aiming to sweep. The contest will take place in August 2013 — a full year from now — but the team will need that time to build a working model of their design.

The Israeli project will consist of an 85-square-meter home, to be built modularly — a method that allows for expansion as a family grows. The house will be equipped with the latest in Israeli-designed environmental technology, using as many resources and features in the house as possible to produce the power needed to keep the lights on and the appliances running. For example, the house will be equipped with an array of photovoltaic (PV) panels, producing electricity from sunshine. But there will be other applications of PV technology, e.g., the use of high-transparency PV glass units for curtain walls and skylights, developed by Israeli startup Pythagoras Solar.

“Our perspective on building is future-focused, with the aim of developing a method of planning and design in which buildings can better respond to change, with the potential to be taken apart, modified and recycled,” the team said in a statement. “The Solar Decathlon is a rare opportunity to raise awareness of environmental thinking and bring this into day-to-day practice.”

The team, made up of students and staff from a variety of disciplines, including architecture, engineering, interior design, environmental studies, and other areas, is led by Dr. Joseph Cory of Shenkar College and architect Chen Shalita.

“The fact that we were one of the 20 teams chosen to participate in this prestigious contest — essentially the Olympics of green building — is a victory in and of itself,” said Cory. “We have developed an Israeli green building ‘dream team,’ which is being supported by a variety of agencies, including the Ministry of National Infrastructures.”

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