Like the outdoor living-emphasizing EcoHabit from Team Stevens, many of the 20 collegiate teams competing in the upcoming 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon have designed their solar-powered abodes specifically for the sunny Southern California climes enjoyed at the Decathlon’s new home, Great Orange County Park in Irvine.
But SoCal-oriented design certainly doesn’t rule across the board, particularly in the case of scrappy third-time contender Team Alberta. Composed of students from the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University, the team’s modular, net-zero-capable entry, Borealis, is geared for placement in the far-flung boreal forests of Canada’s Western provinces. Really, that’s about as far as you can get from a decommissioned Marine Corps Air Station-turned-urban park located about a 20-minute drive north on Interstate 5 from Disneyland.
Team Alberta’s decision to design Borealis (named for the forest itself and, of course, for the Northern Lights) for placement in the remote Albertan forests is anything but arbitrary. Just as fracking booms across the U.S. have lead to affordable housing woes in areas such as the Eagle Ford Shale Region, the northern reaches of Western Canada have experienced housing shortages due in part to the rampant exploitation of natural resources. The oil and gas, mining, and forestry industries have all descended on this relatively undeveloped, underserved region with few housing options available for remote working populations (biologists, engineers, geophysicists, and the like).
Emphasizing comfort, privacy, and sustainability, Borealis, a “home away from home,” was created to “address housing shortages with a sustainable alternative” while also tackling “the societal problem of sustainable living in remote environments.”
Measuring a little over 900-square-feet, Borealis is a relatively straightforward, unfussy affair designed to be easily transported — and then assembled and eventually disassembled if need be — via truck to remote locations as three separate modules: two residential modules that flank a central shared “service core” containing the guts on the home (bathroom, kitchen, and a mechanical room that's accessible from the exterior of the home).
A 10kW rooftop solar array, heavy (R40) levels of insulation, solar thermal tubes, and an innovative energy recovery system help the home achieve net-zero energy even in a rather unforgiving, climatically challenging environment. And on that note, even though Team Alberta doesn’t fully address outdoor living or gardening in the design of Borealis, one of the home’s more striking features, an air-purifying living wall located in the bathroom (!), adds a much-needed touch of greenery to the modular abode which, as depicted in the animated walkthrough video will spend a whole lot of time surrounded by a thick blanket of snow.
Following a two-day open house event held earlier this month on the University of Calgary campus, Borealis is now in the process of being disassembled for shipment to California. You can keep up to speed with Team Alberta as they prep for the big event — the Solar Decathlon runs from Oct. 3 through Oct. 13, by the way — via the team's “Blogealis” blog along with their Twitter and Facebook accounts.
And as mentioned, this is, most impressively, Team Alberta’s third showing at the U.S. Solar Decathlon. In 2009, the Mountie-manned SolAbode placed sixth overall while TRTL (Technological Residence, Traditional Living) finished in 10th place at the 2011 edition of the Department of Energy's solar home building showdown.
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