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Simulation-Enhanced Prototyping of an Experimental Solar House

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If you have a question about this talk, please contact Nami Norman.

The subject of this talk is the design analysis process of an experimental solar house, driven by the overarching goal to obtain net-zero energy performance while being functionally optimal and architecturally ambitious. The house was commissioned to participate in an international solar home competition sponsored by the Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in October 2007. Called the Solar Decathlon, this design-build competition invites 20 international universities to design, build, and operate an 800 sq.ft. all-electric solar powered house within a tight set of performance criteria. All participating teams are required to transport their house to Washington DC for a specified week (October 2007 in this case). During this week each house is judged based on a range of subjective and objective contests related to architecture and engineering strategies.

Led by four faculty members, the Georgia Tech design team consisted of a multi-disciplinary team of over 100 students from architecture and engineering departments. Today’s talk looks at the house as an in-vitro case study of design evolution driven by a unique set of objectives that necessitate detailed analysis at various stages. The presentation outlines the major milestone decisions in the evolution of the project. It does so from the building performance analysis perspective with emphasis on the use of simulation.

The presentation will show three distinct phases of design analysis. The first phase is based on using rough estimates of the house’s components to inform meta-level design components and system choices. In the second phase, this model is replaced with a lumped finite element model for fine-tuning design elements. The “lumps” in the finite element model represent building systems which are replaced as needed when more detailed representations of their components become available. In the third step, the simulated systems are replaced by their real world counterparts. The substitution of a simulated component with a real component is enabled by special interface modules and suitable digital/analog interfaces. The third step results in a calibrated simulation model of the house synchronized with an optimal controller that manages the interaction of all house components and also guides strategies for maximizing objective scores during the competition period.

This talk is part of the Engineering Department Structures Research Seminars series.

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