Romania will be represented in the international competition Solar Decathlon Dubai 2018 by the solar house EFdeN Signature. The house gets its energy through photovoltaic panels, with the surplus stored with the help of batteries for overnight use. The interior design is adaptable, modular, transformable and open. BR talked to Nicoleta Cruceanu, project coordinator, about the house’s particularities and the process behind its creation.
By Romanita Oprea
When and how did inspiration strike?
EFdeN was born in 2012, after Romania’s first participation in Solar Decathlon, competing with the PRISPA prototype. Six members of the PRISPA team decided to continue and to sign up for another competition, Solar Decathlon Europe, in Versailles, 2014, with the EFdeN house, which became the first Comfort Research Center in Romania. In a nutshell, it was a dream of our founding members that came true, to build affordable and sustainable houses, so we easily got more and more involved in this, starting to build the houses.
Tell us about the road from the idea to the final step (time, process, people involved, etc).
EFdeN is a multidisciplinary team with more than 40 members from several universities in Bucharest. In the last two years, EFdeN Signature has been our most important project: we designed, fundraised and built the Signature prototype with the help of our collaborators and partners. Starting from a biophilic concept in the early stages of design, the prototype has gone through several changes, evolving along with the research and optimization process carried out by the team. Even after finishing the construction there is still a lot of work to be done, as we plan to test and optimize the house systems even further, making sure that it performs at the highest standards possible.
What were the main challenges and how did you overcome them?
One of the main challenges when building the Signature prototype was the environment where the competition would take place this year, namely in Dubai. We had to build a house that would withstand desert conditions, such as extreme temperatures, sandstorms and high humidity. It is the first time for us, participating in the competition on another continent, with a totally different climate than the one we are used to. Other challenges were related to making the most of it with often limited resources, time especially, synchronizing activities with people’s schedules, fluctuating delivery terms, even weather, all of it being student-led. And, of course, a huge task was convincing the partners to support us with high quality and sustainable materials, but our enthusiasm and good intentions to build an outstanding house convinced them all to support us or even join us in building it. In the end, it was our devotion, courage, persistence and many, many hours of hard work that allowed us to overcome all the challenges we met along the way.
How is it different from existing solar houses?
Every solar house is different and designed considering specific requirements. We designed EFdeN Signature with great care for the occupier’s experience in this house, beyond his or her consumption behavior, carbon footprint and energy savings. What makes it different is the attention to the comfort conditions, both physical and psychological, integrating vegetation, aesthetic features and light effects that bring the occupier closer to nature. Another feature that enhances occupier experience is the artificial intelligence assistant Alexa, implemented in the house’s automation system, aiming to ease many of the house functionalities.
Moreover, considering the challenges of the competition, the Signature prototype is designed and built to adapt to the extreme weather in the desert, so a lot of its features were created especially to make the house easily adapt to extreme temperatures.
And, more importantly, it is different because it was designed and built by a team of mostly students, which makes it the best.
Who is the target of this house?
The house is designed for a couple or an individual with the option of adding an extra bedroom and bathroom on the west side of the house. For Dubai, the target audience is young professionals with above average social and financial status who are travelling there for career opportunities. In Romania, the target audience is young people interested in nature and sustainability, with above average incomes.
How exactly does the technology work?
When you say technology inside the EFdeN Signature house, you refer not only to every piece of smart equipment that fits in but to the capacity to have them interconnected, the possibility of making them “know about each other”. This facility is managed by the automation system – a PLC (programmable logic controller) with adjacent sensors, meters and auxiliary control units. In order to ensure a strong house-inhabitant relationship, a voice assistant is in charge of facilitating the resident’s wishes. For example, the Voice Assistant is able to give information about the comfort parameters in the house at any required time, as well as the external parameters, to check if the windows and doors are open or closed, and control the ventilation system, irrigation system and many others.
How is consumption reduced exactly?
As the most energy-consuming process in the Middle Eastern climate is air conditioning, energy efficiency strategies are aimed at reducing cooling demand. First and foremost, passive strategies are implemented and only then do we focus on choosing a very efficient active system. So by design we ensure that we need a small air conditioning unit and only then do we choose the most efficient one. The passive strategies include adaptations of traditional centuries-old Middle Eastern ones such as wind towers and mashrabiya – an architectural element designed for shade. The use of such perforated panels with orifices is designed to reduce heat from the sun while maximizing natural light and ventilation. Moreover, all appliances are efficient, lighting is LED, water is heated with solar collectors and the automation system ensures no energy is consumed without purpose.
Where does the innovation lie in this project?
The innovation lies in every corner of the house. From the design to the materials and equipment we used, everything is innovative in its specific area.
What are your expectations from Solar Decathlon Middle East and how are you approaching the event?
This year’s edition was a real challenge, making us pool all our resources in order to compete with 17 other strong teams, some of them veterans of this competition, only in an entirely new context, of which we knew little. This made it even more exciting, because we had to not only think outside the box, but get out of the box completely and find a way to bring sustainable solutions in extremely challenging conditions and new ideas in a place that has seen pretty much everything.
How are you communicating it?
We are using social media channels, a newsletter, websites, direct communication with stakeholders and tours of the house, but also community events, workshops and presentations to help us raise awareness of sustainable houses and the Signature prototype. Also, our communication is done in Romanian (the national language), but also English and Arabic (for international audiences). Moreover, the prototype will be open daily for visits in August, from 18.00 – 21.00, from Monday to Friday and 12.00 – 21.00 during weekends.
What is your target for the prototype in the next two years?
The most important objective right now is to proudly represent Romania, with the house performing as well as possible in the competition in the fall. For this we are testing and optimizing it, keeping it mind all ten contests in which it will be judged and monitored. Upon returning from the competition we will be looking to adapt the house to the local climate and showcasing alternative sustainable solutions for the building sector, while hosting educational activities in order to promote a more environmentally friendly lifestyle.
What are the main steps you will take after the event in Dubai?
Our main focus is to continue the educational process that has shaped so many young students into professionals in the past six years. To that end, we want to continue developing projects in the fields of sustainability, renewable energies, innovation and education that will attract young minds that want to be the change in their communities.
Efden prototype in numbers
- Useful floor area – 75 square feet,
- Built surface – 150 sq ft
The prototype is priced at EUR 300,000, but for sale the cost is reduced. The high sum comes from its being built in just 15 days for the Solar Decathlon Middle East competition in Dubai.
The prototype is being built with educational purposes, in order to represent Romania in the international competition. It is a team EFdeN property, while the plans are available on the competition’s website. There is no commercial purpose yet. The house will be built in Dubai, during the 15 days provided by the competition.
The technical equipment for electric energy production is a system of 32 photovoltaic boards with installed power of 8 kWp, two invertors with installed power of 4 kWp and an energy storage system for estimated overnight consumption. Annual energy production is estimated at 14.8 MWh, and consumption at 13.84 MWh.
In terms of mechanics, the house uses an air cooling system, multi-split with two interior units, with a capacity of 8.96 kw, in order to maintain a comfortable interior temperature of 23-25 degrees. For ventilation the system is equipped with a unit recovering the heat and humidity, through which the introduced air is cooled with the extracted air, without combining them. The ventilation is controlled with CO2 censors from the control center.
The flexible illuminating solution incorporates four sensors of light intensity found in the living, dining, kitchen and working area, through which light intensity is automatically regulated according to the natural light, in order to save energy and to keep a constant luminosity of minimum 300 lux.
For the user’s comfort different lighting scenarios can easily be set (for example, at 10pm all the lights can be dimmed to encourage sleepiness). There are integrated intelligent appliances, smart-mirror and bath and kitchen accessories with reduced water consumption. All the used technologies inside the prototype are integrated into the house’s automation system, controlled remotely by the voice assistant or through the mobile app.