Energy building

Group designs sustainable house on campus

The Queen's Solar Education Centre, installed at Union and Division streets, will test energy generation and consumption in homes. It will open on Oct. 15.
The Queen's Solar Education Centre, installed at Union and Division streets, will test energy generation and consumption in homes. It will open on Oct. 15.

An innovative new laboratory on campus will test the applications of renewable energy sources in housing. The goal is to design a practical net-zero house — meaning that will generate as much energy as it consumes.

The Queen’s Solar Education Centre (QSEC) is a 640 square-foot house designed by the Queen’s Solar Design Team (QSDT) to test applied alternative energy and green innovations in homes. It was installed on campus at the corner of Union and Division Streets on Sept. 15.

The team began designing solar vehicles in 1988 and has since shifted focus to designing affordable, net-zero homes. It consists of eight undergraduate managers with sub-teams of five to 20 students and graduate advisors.

Karl Kadwell, project manager for QSDT, said the on campus house won’t be net-zero as it’s primarily a learning tool for QSDT and Engineering students.

“Everyone on the team will use QSEC as a laboratory. We also invited professors to use the home for education in classes,” Kadwell, Sci ’13, said, adding that it’s mostly Engineering professors who will use the facility.

The house will be open to the public after its grand opening on Oct. 15. In the one open-concept room there will be displays of sustainable products and the mechanisms to track energy generation.

It will only be open by appointment due to safety concerns regarding machinery and research, Kadwell said.

The house’s energy generation and consumption will change as the team tests different simulations.

“We will be changing factors such as thermal mass, shading, windows and [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] to see how the building performs under different conditions,” Kadwell said.

QSEC uses sustainable innovations that can be applied to a net-zero house including photovoltaic solar panels that generate electrical energy and solar thermal panels that generate thermal energy.

Smart blinds, which respond to changes in temperature and light, will also be installed in the house. Kadwell said that because the blinds automatically adjust themselves, the need for indoor lighting will be decreased.

The entire project — with materials, labour and consulting — is valued at $100,000.

“We have fundraising as well as sponsorship. A lot of the features have been donated,” Kadwell said, adding that funding was co-ordinated through an advancement group and included alumni donations, notably from the class of Sci ’44.

Kadwell said the approval process to build on the lot involved meetings with Queen’s administration, Physical Plant Services and stakeholders at Queen’s. Talks regarding QSEC began in February 2011.

The design team has the location for a year as the long-term plans for the lot have not yet been finalized. The lot may eventually be used for Phase 2 of the Queen’s Centre or temporary parking.

“At the end of August 2012 we will have to move QSEC to an off-campus research site by the 401,” Kadwell said, adding that transportation would be relatively simple because the house remains a factory-built functional unit.

The roof can be lowered to fit under bridges with hinges. The team began designing the house in spring 2010 and once the design was complete they sent the plans to Alouette Homes — a company that then built the house in two halves and shipped it to campus.

It took two weeks to build.

First Capital Construction and volunteer Queen’s students will continue construction, including the building of a deck and added insulation. until the official unveiling.

“Our ultimate goal is to compete in the 2013 US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. We hope that this demo at home will be good practice,” Kadwell said.

The Solar Decathlon will take place in September 2013 and is a world-wide collegiate-level competition for the design, construction and operation of a solar-powered house.

Kadwell said they first applied to compete in the Decathlon in 2009 but weren’t selected; this year they are hoping QSEC gives their application an edge.

“The house will never be finished. It’s a learning tool and we will always be working on it to improve the design,” Kadwell said.

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