Doors Open Kingston features Queen’s Engineers

Queen’s Solar Design Team unveils environmental home at local event

Arthur Cockfield, Business Manager (left), with Reid Alston (right), Project Manager, at the Queen’s Solar Education Centre.
Supplied by Queen's Solar Design Team

On June 17th, the Queen’s Solar Design team unveiled to the Kingston community its current major project — a fully autonomous environmental house.  

Known as the Queen’s Solar Education Centre (QSEC), this net-zero energy home is located at 244 Sir John A. Macdonald Boulevard and was featured at Doors Open Kingston on June 17. Run annually, this event acts as a public showcase of local business, organizations, historic sites and museums in the community. 

While the house functions as a practical laboratory for Queen’s students, the QSEC will also be a space to provide educational workshops for anyone in Kingston. Upon completion, it will rely only on the sun, wind and rain to provide the necessary utilities for habitation.

“Energy sustainability is a huge challenge that University students have the opportunity to tackle,” Project Manager Reid Alston wrote in an email to The Journal. “Residences may at some point need to rely on off-grid solutions to power their homes.”

After placing first for Engineering at the 2013 Solar Decathlon held by the United States Department of Energy, Queen’s Solar Design team decided to take on the project full time. Alston wrote that at this event, which featured sustainable houses built by different universities competing within 10 different categories, awareness was brought to sustainable options for housing.  

“It was clear from these results that a more permanent house should be built as a continuing test for future projects,” he continued. 

Due to yearly turnover, a new team of five students took on the project this summer as part of the Summer Work Experience Program (SWEP). While qualified, the transition from one group of students to the next proved a challenge for the team. 

“They needed to catch up on the previous team’s work and understand all the knowledge accumulated during the process of building the QSEC,” Alston wrote. 

Despite this challenge, Business Manager Arthur Cockfield believes the integration of new students is among the most rewarding aspects of the project. 

“My favourite part is being able to work with talented engineering students,” Cockfield told The Journal via email. “They have really interesting ways of thinking about engineering problems and so it’s great to see the way they approach them.” 

Stephen Harrison, Associate Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, has worked alongside the team for over 25 years. and is tasked with supervising Engineering students testing green building technologies within the QSEC. 

Since the opening, the team has been focused on using thermal energy drawn from a unique solar panel to heat the floor and the rest of the home.

When asked how the team intends on maintaining affordability despite utilizing new environmentally sustainable technologies, Alston wrote the long-run savings in utilities would offset the current costs. 

“Although the QSEC is set up more as a practical laboratory where minimizing cost isn’t the main focus, the knowledge we are able to give the public on our experiences can help them make more educated choices when planning their own projects.”

The QSEC currently functions as an educational space for engaging with sustainable technologies that also allows for “real-world style” testing. 

“We can see how these technologies work under different conditions,” Alston wrote. “The opportunity right now is to develop these sustainable residential technologies and to help find applicable solutions to different house arrangements.”

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