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Solar Decathlon: Two Cool Solutions for Desert Living

UNLV students are building the ultimate desert home. Read about the home's features in this team update.

Campus News  |  Jul 31, 2013  |  By Ana Klein

The summer 2013 issue of UNLV Magazine featured students from UNLV's Solar Decathlon team, Team Las Vegas. They discussed individual sections of their solar-powered prototype home, DesertSol.

Retractable Solar Shade Screens

Nathan Weber, a graduate student in architecture, designed the mechanically retractable solar shade screens. He is the team's architecture project manager and construction superintendent.

The screens feature digitally fabricated images of mesquite trees cut from a steel sheet. In other climates, deciduous trees are used to cool a space, but in the harsh climate of the desert, trees can consume a lot of water. These screens are meant to save water as well as the the electricity that it would take to pump water to the trees. "I see it as an attractive way to help keep your house cooler in the summer and since energy-saving strategies are so important, I think making them in such a way that is appealing and affordable for the everyday home buyer is important."

The screens are located on the south and west sides of the house, which are the hottest.

PV Overhang

Jinger Zeng is a graduate student in engineering, discussed the PV (photovoltaic) overhang of the 754-square-foot home. She is the team's project engineer and instrumentation contact

"(The overhang) was an elegant solution (balancing) architecture and engineering," she said. The DesertSol design incorporates 30 solar panels with the goal of producing as much or more energy than is consumed, resulting in a monthly energy bill totaling zero dollars. Clark County requires a 3-foot clearance around PV panels to ensure fire access, so that greatly limited placement of the solar panels on the roof. The overhang solution, however, provides expands the PV area and acts as a passive shading device for the deck.

Weber and Zeng have displayed an incredible amount of dedication to this project. It is truly people with the kind of team leadership and hard working qualities like theirs that make this team so successful.

Read more about the team members.