Solar Decathlon 2019: step forward France’s only team!
In Hungary, near Budapest, Solar Decathlon Europe 2019 is taking place in June and July. This two-yearly international competition was initiated in 2002 by the US Department of Energy in the goal of stimulating an alternative to petroleum. Today, the Solar Decathlon is open to all countries worldwide. France’s training institution Les Compagnons du Devoir is part of the only French team present in the competition. A story of outstanding experience and training.
Multi-disciplinary teams from academies of architecture, design, town planning, sociology, engineering, and construction will be going head-to-head this year in a somewhat unusual Solar Decathlon. The challenge is to take an existing construction and turn it into a grade 1 energy-saving home that is technically advanced, attractive, and eco-friendly. “Habiter 2030” is the only French team to make it to this stage of the contest. Based in the Hauts-de-France region, the team comprises 300 students and professionals from 14 training structures, with Compagnons du Devoir in the construction brief. They have spent three years pouring their energy into this project.
The analogous archetype: a simulacrum of the “1930s house”
We chose to convert a typical northern French, working class, red-brick house into an energy-neutral home. Three main issues inform the project: improving the building’s thermal insulation, producing solar energy on the scale of a neighbourhood block, and developing solutions suitable for mass replication,”
Explains Jocelyn Gac, project coordinator for Compagnons du Devoir and also for the Bepositive house at the last Bepositive exhibition.
The team designed and built a full-scale economical and ecological prototype, powered by solar energy. But transplanting a whole house to Hungary is a bit of a non-starter, so after considering then rejecting the idea of a holographic projection, the team worked with its architects on the principle of an analogous archetype. “We started with a timber-frame structure and fitted it with materials that match the real characteristics (thermal, hygrometric, dimensional, etc.) of 1930s-built houses. We thus managed to produce a very realistic analogous archetype.”
One competition, two phases
This 22-tonne house was then cut up for shipment, in no fewer than 8 articulated lorries, to Hungary, where the Habiter 2030 construction team was waiting.
“In the space of two weeks from 26th June to 11th July, 50 people including 20 from Compagnons du Devoir must put the house back together, contending with seasonal temperatures in Hungary that can hit 40°C. The next challenge involves creating the project’s back story. In a 400 m² space, the team must set up an exhibit and animations depicting the 1930s brick house and its context. This even includes installing a small tavern to evoke the Hauts de France region’s famous good cheer, both at the time these houses were built and in the 2030 vision.”
Then from 12th to 29th July, it’s demonstration time. The house will come under scrutiny from every angle by the expected 100,000 visitors. All the equipment must work—washing machine, shower, kitchen, heating, etc.—and all the house’s uses must be accurately simulated for its functionality to be assessed.
The regional element shines through
Although the Solar Decathlon has continental reach, it still allows teams to come up with solutions suited to specific regional contexts. "We must remain rooted in the region—we couldn’t have done the same thing in, say, Brittany. Our idea is to privilege local economy and techniques and of course short supply lines. We have for example used Metisse® lagging made in Hauts de France from old denim, wood wool by Steico®, and hemp lime or local earth to make surface filler.”
The team also acknowledges the social and economic context in the region. “How people live is important for a builder. Their habitat must offer solutions at all levels. For example, one of our big issues is pooling the solar energy produced by a neighbourhood block. Surplus production can benefit neighbouring houses with no generation capacity. We also consider the occupants’ uses by planning shared amenities such as laundry rooms, gardens, or leisure areas. We conducted a 10-year projection with a sociologist and a smart home specialist. How occupants live in these homes is more important than the home itself. In fact, that’s why our team is called ‘Habiter 2030’—living in 2030.”
Barrier-breaking training and instruction
The Solar Decathlon anticipates professional reforms focusing on on-the-job training, which this project reproduces perfectly. It is of interest to young workers and supervisory staff alike. It enables the sharing of experience with other disciplines, not so common these days. Young trainees can match their knowledge, skills, practices, and personalities against those of other young European builders.
Jocelyn Gac rounds off with “It’s an intense moment of sharing, trading thoughts, and constructing together without a hierarchy—all disciplines are on an equal footing. Practices are combined in the aim of achieving differently and better."
« It’s an outstanding experience, world skills that collectively unleash self-improvement. Last but not least, it’s a global project that embraces not only techniques but also economics, with the team having to find the necessary funding to realize their plans and propose viable solutions for the region. »
Make a date on 29th July to discover the results of this tough challenge, which will help raise real awareness among students, industries, practicians, researchers, governments, and the general public about society’s energy problems.