Many of the students at Stevens Institute were directly affected by the devastation wrought by Hurricane Sandy or witnessed the destruction of coastal communities first hand. Many students also stepped up to give assistance, volunteering hours, days and weeks to helping Hoboken and neighboring communities clean-up and recover. When it came time to develop the school entry into the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition, we knew we wanted to construct a building that would be a model of sustainability and resilience.
At its core SURE HOUSE is a super efficient, solar powered, net-zero home, storm-proof home. However, like the Stevens students who went the extra mile to help, we wanted SURE HOUSE to actually assist the community after a storm had passed through. One of our concepts is the REsilient Charging Hub. Community members would be able to come by and charge up their devices with clean solar energy, because we all know how much peace of mind can come from having a charged phone, especially during an emergency.
As you might imagine, coastal areas can be especially susceptible to power outages and really anywhere is susceptible when you’re dealing with hurricanes. However, most solar homes can’t provide power during an outage because the systems are tied into the grid. So without an expensive battery backup system or a dirty diesel generator you would pretty much be out of luck. At SURE HOUSE we are using a piece of technology called a transformerless inverter. It serves as an inverter converting our solar DC power to household AC power. What is unique is its ability to isolate or island itself from the grid, learn more. This means we are able to produce some emergency power while the sun is out and allocate a portion of this power for USB chargers that our neighbors could use. We wanted to get a better idea for how something like this could be constructed, so we built it…and it totally works!
At the entry of our home we are utilizing planters to cover our water tanks, and we thought this area would be a good public gathering spot with integrated USB outlets. We detailed the design as a deep seated bench with a gel-coated backing where USB outlets could go. The wood finish would match the ramp/decking material and the gel-coat matches the composite finish of our storm shutters.
In designing a house to resist flooding and hurricanes, this charging hub must be REsilient as well. Since it is located in an area vulnerable to flooding we needed to waterproof all the electrical componentry. So in the spirit of many of the other details of our home, we adopted from the marine industry. The USB outlets are actually marine-grade electrical receptacles and our additional electronics are all housed within a NEMA 12 rated waterproof enclosure. In sum, SURE HOUSE is not only energy self-sufficient; it is a good neighbor as well, serving as a charging hub for its local community during power outages.