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back to article Solar-curtain "soft house" plan proposed by MIT prof

Heavens be praised* - the energy security/climate/fuel-price crisis has been solved by an MIT professor. Remarkably, not a professor of engineering or science either - but an architecture prof. Sheila Kennedy and her partner Frano Violich - assisted by other architects - have designed a "soft house" powered by "energy harvesting …

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Stu
Boffin

1/5 aint half bad...

...when you consider another energy story today about wind power generation not being able to provide a sustained energy source - surely this tech can take up the slack for that, when the winds die down throughout europe!

But yes the UK would probably see a very small fraction, perhaps 1/100th of that sunlight, until we get a lucky summer - this year hasn't been all that bad - I've got my dinky experimental 2.4watt solar panel powering a small 12v computer case fan permanently blowing into my dining room!

But the thing stops spinning as soon as the thinnest sliver of cloud covers it up.

I reckon it'll take about 10 or so large car batteries with some serious solar panel surface area (costing thousands in all) to even have the slightest chance of running my electrical needs.

Even boiling a kettle will take serious amounts of energy, and probably kill the batteries with its fast drain rate.

.

Lets not forget these curtains dont work without somewhere to store the energy - much more costs, less reason to come off the national grid!

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Paris Hilton

Am I being stupid...

...but if the curtain was made 'less inefficient' by moving around the house and tracking the sun to capture all those lovely rays, wouldn't that mean that as a soft home-owner I would be normally be subjected to as much sunlight as is preferred by Nosferatu and co.

This leading to chronic rickets endemic to stupid soft-homed and soft-boned home-owners who opted to buy a house with the BFGs shower at one end.

Paris - cos she could firm-up the bones of even the softest home-owner.

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Tim
Go

Take it to the native americans...

...this technology would be perfect for big, "smart" wigwams! At least in places like Arizona. The conical shape would have excellent surface area proportions and there's lots of solar energy to be had. Plus they could get back to their traditional way of life.... ^_^

Also, isn't this a great excuse to bring cloaks and capes back into fashion? Think of the possibilities!

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Go

@Nathan

Even if you had that arrangement, there's only one or two sides of the house being illuminated at once. Also, if these curtains absorbed a lot of light to generate more power, you'd end up offsetting that with higher lighting bills. I suppose you _could_ install Light-Pipes from the roof if you were designing a new house to help lower this offset.

This could be a viable power source for foreign second homes; say somewhere in the south of Spain. You'd have a big battery pack under the house (maybe even an electric car as well) and it'd charge them up while you were away. If you had a garden there it'd probably be sufficient to run a sprinkler every so often and keep a robotic lawnmower roaming about. When you turned up for a holiday, it'd draw power from batteries and curtains. You could even sell some power back to the Spanish power grid if they have provisions for that sort of thing.

Except it'd all get nicked or torn. And infested with insects swarming over the lovely warm porous stuff.

Overall, I'd say it was "passable" as an idea if they explained possible uses and ways you could lower your power consumption to within- or close to- the 16kWh.

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facts or bile?

I agree that the architects facts were thin on the ground but I regret that your own were not exactly spot on either. Take the 'average' house energy usage figures you use, you didn't mention, and I quote "85 per cent of energy used in households was for space or water heating".

Now since it is no big thing to build a fully passive house, i.e. one with zero external heating requirements (www.scanhome.ie is one example I know well, plenty of others exist) that reduces you 'electrical' requirements for an average house from 60kWh, to 9kWh. This can be reduced further with the use of low energy bulbs, switching off instead of standby etc. All stuff you would do anyway if you were building a passive house. So we are now talking about running a very comfortable house on as little as 3 or 4 kWh.

I completely accept that curtains are not a very viable solution, even if it did get the professor's name in print, but does that really justify getting your hackles that far up?

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Anonymous Coward

Power Demand, Architects and Photo-Voltaics

@Paul Smith ..... I recall a solar house in the US needing only 3kWh per day, including running a fridge, so that seems feasible. It was fairly austere living, though, by modern standards.

A bit off topic ..... Having lived in 12 (or is it 13?) homes now, I'd suggest that the homes that architects design are not designed for humans - none that I know of, anyway. What goes on in their heads is a mystery to me, particularly with regard to the wierd shaped furniture that they think people own.

Now, a bit more on topic .... How are these curtains supposed to withstand poor weather (high wind, sleet, etc.)? And what exactly happened to the solid walls that are supposed to keep that nasty weather and cold on the outside, not to mention thieves and nosey neighbours?

A long time ago, and amongst other things, I studied photo-voltaics under Prof Martin Green, who, at the time, had just invented the world's most efficient solar cell (since superseded). IIRC, his team gave up on efficiency (output-per-m2), instead focussing on cost minimisation (output-per-dollar). Personally, to achieve uptake of solar (photo-voltaic) power on a signficant scale, the low-cost approach seems a more sensible one ..... and fairly far removed from solar curtains in the "soft house".

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16kW curtains, 60kWh per house

And you'd power 6 houses? Well, maybe for a few months of the year, if you were sufficiently polar.

Besides which, how much pollution is generated in the production of said PV-curtains and how often would they need replacing? Most photo-voltaics aren't half as eco-friendly as they claim to be.

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Stop

According to my maths

If professors are bad, and architects are bad, then professors of architecture are at least bad^2, and may even be badder like bad^6 if Van der Waals forces are in play. I bet they didn't think of that.

Actually, we're all agreed about how to validate architects and verify their designs. Architects should use the buildings they design. If it's an office, they should work in it. If it's a house, they should live in it. If it's a school, they should take architecture classes in it. If they really think they have a viable solar powered house, let's see them not paying the leccy bills and wearing three overcoats. If they fail they should be restricted to designing dog-houses and monkey-houses. (Definitely not penguin pools, or parrot cages).

Then, finally, at last a Thousand Flowers might blossom.

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Step slowly back into reality

From the looks of that picture, there are no real walls. While the government and various law enforcement agencies would rejoice at the complete elimination of privacy, I'm not so sure people will like it too much. And I hope you don't like your possessions, as they'd be nicked pretty much immediately. Not to mention the lack of solid walls and insulation means the house will be too hot in the summer and way too cold in the winter. Lack of humidity control would be great. Hope you like water and sleet/hail coming in, too. And insects, arachnids, and other creepy-crawlies.

Even if their plan is to take a normal solid-wall house and hanging these panels on the outside, there are a number of additional issues:

How will the panels hold up to rain, sleet, hail, and snow? How about hurricanes and tornados? How resistant will these panels be to various creepy-crawlies? Oh, and I hope you weren't too attached to the notion of being able to look out the window and actually see the outside world since these panels will block the windows.

That doesn't even get into the cost of such a plan. There's a reason roof-mounted solar panels aren't too popular -- because they're extremely expensive.

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Bronze badge
Coat

Twisting the Q-Tip in too far

I wish I had a bigger shower. One where my elbows don't bump. One where I can move. A shower so big that I can walk around in it. A shower that needs furniture! A shower so big that my friends can come over! I'll build an entire house that's one big oval rail with a giant shower curtain!

The aluminum foil coat is mine, just like in the model.

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Bronze badge
Black Helicopters

The Elephant in the room

Is the UK-USA average of 60-73 kilowatt hours, while it's considered just fine to piss that much energy away, alternative energy schemes are all DOA.

But then where is the profit in that route eh?

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Silver badge
Thumb Down

Pointless excersize in futulity

IMHO it's a waste of energy, time & money to make & install the curtains, the house could not be near any trees (including bushes on the ground) or other buildings that may shade the solar curtains because the power produced from solar panels significantly drops if even a small part is shaded by your hand or even a few leaves, and then to get the most out of the sunlight provided you have to angle the panels/curtains at the sun because in the middle of the summer you'd want your solar panel/curtains to be almost flat not vertical (as in the case of hanging curtains)

Just stick panels on the roof like everyone else is doing.

Incedentally I live literally just down the road from where Damien Hurst has bought a new building for his studios and will be spending £1.5M on a 310kw solar setup, the building is still an empty shell but I'm keeping a curious eye on the progress whenever I pass by.

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re: facts or bile

I'm guessing you define "average household" as one that does not have a refrigerator, stove, washer, dryer, microwave, hair dryer, computer or TV. And such a definition would probably fit in the early 1900s, but not in the early 2000s.

Average LCD TV (let's say 125W), receiver (60W), subwoofer (11W), and DVD player (7W) used for 6 hours = 1.218kWh

Smaller average LCD TV (let's say 100W) used for 4 hours = 0.400kWh

Average computer (80W), monitor (35W), speakers (10W), router (8W), and cable/DSL modem (9W) used for 6 hours = 0.852kWh

(3) 25W lamps used for 6 hours = 0.450kWh

1600W hair dryer used for 15 minutes (3 people, 5 minutes each) = 0.133kWh

That's just what I could think of off the top of my head, and it's 3.053kWh per day in addition to refrigerator, stove/range/oven, washer, dryer, and microwave. A total of 9kWh per day MIGHT be possible if the family does not use the stove/range/oven often, does not have a washer or dryer, does not go into the refrigerator often, does not use the microwave often, uses fluorescent lights, and does not leave lights turned on when not in use.

For the record, my daily use (excluding my two computers) is 5-6kWh. I live alone, and I don't pay for heat. I use 20W energy-efficient fluorescent lamps, and I only have one lamp on at a time. I only use the stove about once every week or two, and that's only about 20 minutes to cook pasta. I don't use the microwave, and I don't have a washer, dryer, or hair dryer.

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Keep them drawn all the time?

Am I the only person to have detected a small problem in their plan? Don't most people close their curtains at night and open them again during the day? So the only time these solar-panel curtains will be exposed to the sun is at... night.

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Silver badge

@Chris C

That's got to suck for you then. Either you don't have many clothes or you end up spending considerably more on the laundromat than you would one home appliances and electricity bills.

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Shame

A really picturesque concept, but about as realistic as expecting to heat your home by lighting your farts.

Unrealistic energy production assumptions aside, what would one of these things look like after a year in Glasgow?

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Joke

@Shame

>A really picturesque concept, but about as realistic as expecting to heat your home by lighting your farts.<

My wife is vegetarian; I think that this would be a perfectly feasible solution.

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Checking my power bills

And I find I peaked at 16kWh a day, in mid winter with electric heating and water. More usually they're around 10kWh. Are you really suggesting that Brit and Yank households are that energy inefficient on average? I'm not exactly pushing myself to conserve energy either.

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