The 2015 Solar Decathlon Village…opening Oct. 8th in So California

Cal Poly is on the road to Irvine with their Solar Home coined "INhouse", as Sandy Stannard points the way.

Cal Poly is on the road to Irvine with their Solar Home  “INhouse”, as Architecture Professor Sandy Stannard points the way.

College teams from across the country are hitting the road to Irvine, California, where a Solar Village made of 16 student-designed/built solar homes will emerge in this 2015 rendition of the Solar Decathlon.   The village will be open for tours October 8-11, and 15-18th, 11am-7pm each day.  While all the homes are 100% solar powered, they all look different, with lots of creativity involved.     US Dept of Energy has hosted the biannual event since 2002, with Solar Decathlon events now in Europe, Asia, and South America.

Solar Decathlon documentary highlighting the 2005 & 07 events available at Solar Schoolhouse and via youtube

Solar Decathlon documentary highlighting the 2005 & 07 events available at Solar Schoolhouse and via youtube

Ever since the 2005 event held in Washington DC, when we produced a documentary book and DVD, we’ve been addicted to this ‘competition’ [really, everyone is a winner that participates in this event].

We even made a detour on our family vacation to tour the European edition at Versailles near Paris in 2014.   At the 2013 event, we interviewed students from many of the homes, and produced a series of short video episodes (posted at highlighting the various roles (skills) involved in designing and building a sustainable solar home.   The Solar Decathlon homes provide an inspiration for K12 students studying solar energy and provide a reference for their own model solar home projects.   Past SD projects are posted on the Solar Decathlon website.

This year several California schools are first time participants.  Sacramento State, UC Davis, Team Orange County (UC Irvine/ChapmanUniversity/Irvine Valley College/Saddleback College will all be there, sharing their own unique designs.  Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, who participated in 2005, will bring fresh ideas to the village.

If you can, plan on checking it out in person.  Give yourself 2 days if possible.  Lots to see.  The students are very knowledgeable and excited to share their homes with you.     If travel to Irvine is not an option, plan on checking Richard King’s blog posts as the competition gets going on the 8th.  I’ll be visiting on Oct 15-16th.

YSH-book-DVD-1If you’re a K12 teacher, our ‘Your Solar Home‘ curriculum (student guidebook + DVD) are excellent ways to bring this subject into your classroom. During the event, you can also consider reaching out to one or more of the teams via email & social media.  Or even better, engaging your classrom in the “I Won a Solar Home” activity, where your students explore the various designs online, noting which features appeal to them, and ultimately picking a house that they would want to live in.   While the homes all have solar design features, and are solar powered, each one incorporates different design strategies and aesthetics, that appeal to each individual differently.


We’re also working on using Sketchup to do simple energy analysis of solar decathlon models, as part of k12 classroom activities, and will share this in a future post.

Looking forward,


Posted in Event, Project Tagged with: , , ,

Hopi and Lakota communities solar cooking

Deb Tewa checks out the solar ovens.

Deb Tewa checks out the solar ovens.

Student-built solar ovens arrived at the Lakota and Hopi communities this summer.  Both communities run Renewable Energy Training centers and were very receptive to adopting solar ovens into their daily routine.  The ovens help reduce the need for propane or electricity to cook with, and cooking outdoors helps keep indoor home temperatures cooler in the summer.  Almost anything that can be baked or slow cooked, can be made in a solar oven.   The ovens basically are insulated boxes with glass windows.   A black metal floor absorbs the incoming solar radiation and conducts heat to the pot and food. The insulation keeps the heat in the box.  A single reflector bounces more solar rays into the window and box, helping to increase temperature in the oven.   The reflector lid also acts as protection for when the cooker is not in use.

Adding tempered glass to the solar oven window frame.

Adding tempered glass to the solar oven window frame.

The oven project originally was hatched in Sebastopol at the Solar Schoolhouse.  Tor Allen, Director of Rahus Institute and Solar Schoolhouse, along with David Casey, Ecology Action and Math Teacher at Analy High School, worked together several years refining the basic design, while conducting community workshops and testing out the ovens.  Marna Chamberlain, science teacher at Piedmont High School, decided to make solar oven building a class project after she built one herself at a Summer Institute for Educators hosted by Solar Schoolhouse.  After grant writing and additional fundraising, the whole 9th grade class (~200 students) came together on two days in the Spring of 2014 to build ~ 50 ovens.  Inspired by the Piedmont action, woodshop teacher Bear Begelman of Acalanes High School in Lafayette, decided to build another 40 ovens.   Bear’s class built and sent a dozen ovens to Afghanistan via the Trust in Education organization.   Running into to logistical challenges of delivery the rest of the ovens, Solar Schoolhouse stepped in to find new homes with new friends at the Lakota and Hopi communities.

Late in July, Henry Red Cloud hosted a solar electric training at the Red Cloud Renewable Energy Center on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. Participants from many Native American communities throughout the west came together to learn about photovoltaic (solar electric) technology and to install additional solar capacity to the local radio station.  In this setting, a dozen solar ovens arrived and were immediately put to use baking a variety of items.   Several workshop participants went home with a solar oven to share with their own community.

Further south, in Northern Arizona, Jacobo Marcus was leading a Natural Building Course in the Hopi Community as part of Hopi Tutskwa Permaculture.  The goal was to build a passive solar strawbale home, outfitted with a standalone photovoltaic system to supply electrical power.  The passive solar knowledge taught in the class are the same basic ideas utilized in building a solar oven.  A test unit sent early in the summer was immediately put to use, cooking something to eat everyday during the summer.  At the end of August, 36 solar ovens were delivered and are being distributed throughout the community.  The Hopi Food Coop will be sharing experiences among themselves using the solar oven going forward.

Super thanks to all that supported fundraising via Indiegogo earlier this summer, to help pay for adding glass to the ovens, testing, quality control, and for shipping the ovens!

Posted in Project

Assembling the SolSource Parabolic Cooker…

[May 31, 2015]

Check out the new SolSource Parabolic Cooker from One Earth Designs.  We’ve added it to our medley of solar cookers  and are excited to try it out this summer.  In this video below, Tor assembles the cooker.

Posted in Project

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