DTU students’ solar energy house to be built in China

The world’s largest student competition, Solar Decathlon, has selected DTU students’ project to participate in the competition for the most energy-efficient and well-designed solar energy house.

A solar energy house named Aurora—developed by students at DTU—has qualified for the world’s largest student competition to build the best low-cost house based on solar heating. More than 30 projects have applied for participation in the competition, and 15 projects have been selected for Solar Decathlon China, SDC, which will be held on the outskirts of Beijing in 2021.

Aurora has been designed and developed at DTU and is to be built by a group of 30-40 students. The students are working with a concept for a house that—in addition to being heated with solar energy—utilizes the latest knowledge about circular construction, sustainability, healthy indoor climate, integration of smart technology, etc.
Associate Professor at DTU Civil Engineering, Christian Rønne—who heads the courses in DTU’s Solar Decathlon project—is pleased that the students have a strong design concept.

“Aurora has qualified with a high level of architectural design. The challenge for the project will now be to get DTU’s researchers and external enterprises to develop new technologies which the students can integrate in the house, so that they can realize the visions of a solar energy house with a good indoor climate that meets all sustainability aspects,” says Christian Neyra Rønne.

Sustainable house

Solar Decathlon is organized as a relay project in which students are part of the relay team. The whole process spans two years, but is broken up into a number of shorter courses where students can obtain 5-15 ECTS credits in their study programme.

In the first phase, the students faced the assignment of creating the architectural concept for a sustainable house. This resulted in a classic Chinese farmhouse inspired by Utzon’s courtyard houses—with a roof surface that opens up towards the sky like a leaf covered with solar cells.

The next class of students then worked on detailed descriptions of the design and implementation of the full structure. And in the latest course in autumn 2020, the students have been involved in choosing solar energy and building systems, integrating the technology, and preparing a life cycle assessment.

Collaboration with enterprises

At the beginning of 2021, the ideas will be developed in practice in a collaboration between DTU and a number of small and medium-sized enterprises that have been selected to participate in the project.  This is based on ten sponsorships of DKK 50,000 each from the Danish Industry Foundation. Grants are given to enterprises with special competences in the individual areas.

The individual sponsorships do not cover the enterprises’ development costs, but are primarily intended to cover payroll costs for electricians and other workmen who are to install the technologies and integrate them into an overall solution in Aurora.

“Solar Decathlon is an obvious good marketing opportunity for the enterprises, which get a quality stamp by participating because it shows that their competences are so strong that they can be marketed internationally. Likewise, the project offers good opportunities for researchers and students at DTU who can test new technologies in a full-scale experiment,” says Christian Rønne.

Digital twin

Christian Rønne has special focus on ensuring that Aurora gets a strong digital profile. The concept is developed using a digital twin in the form of a computer-based model for operation and project management, and the house will be fitted with new smart control systems, which can, for example, be based on cloud solutions and mobile phones.

“Aurora is a chance to try out new elements. And this applies to everything, from the sustainable hemp insulation that we use to new models for sustainable Danish furniture and presentation of new elements with cultivation of plants in the cities—urban gardening—as an integral part of the concept,” says Christian Rønne.

The project will continue in the second quarter of 2021 with a clarification of the elements that will be included in the final design and assembly tasks. Christian Rønne operates with several possible scenarios in which the elements are constructed either in Denmark or China, depending on whether the corona pandemic will allow the students to go to China to construct the building in the autumn.

The Solar Decathlon finals will be held in October 2021. In 2022, the houses will be used as guest residences at the Winter Olympics in China, and researchers will follow the houses in an operational phase and evaluate the quality of the individual solutions.