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Ripple House Lives Up to Its Promise

Adam Wong, BSME ’09, and James Cardwell, BSEE ’10 monitor sensor data from experiments designed to characterize the thermal properties of Ripple House
Withe the master bedroom of Ripple House repurposed as a research space, Adam Wong, BSME '09 (left), and James Cardwell, BSEE '10, monitor sensor data from experiments designed to characterize the thermal properties of the house.

When it was being designed and built for the U. S. Department of Energy’s 2007 Solar Decathlon competition, students and faculty working on “Ripple House,” SCU’s 3rd place winning entry, always envisioned the solar-powered home serving as a laboratory for energy research. With the help of a grant made by the California Energy Commission to SolarTech, a PV industry consortium, that is exactly what is happening.

“The funding has allowed Santa Clara University to partner with SolarTech over the past year to develop carbon metering and to research Building Integrated Photovoltaics (BIPV) and Plug & Play technology with the aim of lowering installation costs for residential and commercial systems,” said Dr. Mark Aschheim, professor and chair of civil engineering.

Under the direction of Dr. Jorge González-Cruz, former professor of mechanical engineering at SCU, students have made excellent progress on the carbon meter, which is now available for license. According to González, “The carbon meter will measure carbon offsets from almost any home at real-time rates. This concept will allow homeowners to be compensated for saving energy while contributing to saving the planet, enabling a potential economy of carbon cap and trade. The sophisticated instrumentation of the Ripple House is allowing the students to test this idea with surprisingly good results, matching data with the theory proposed by the professors.”

The BIPV research to streamline installation and improve performance is also progressing apace. “This is an emerging area,” said Aschheim. “No one knows what to make of it yet. There are a number of new technologies out there that may or may not improve performance. Current systems using identical panels strung together with an inverter are intolerant of poor performance due to shading, panel malfunctions, dirt, etc. Our students are looking into ways of making installation easier and faster, and they are researching strategies for improving the physical devices so PV can be arranged in previously inefficient configurations.”

This fall, students are testing power maximization devices from National Semiconductor, Enphase Energy, and Tigo Energy, using the carbon meter to analyze results. “The Ripple House is a great testbed for conducting thermal and PV experiments,” said Aschheim. “The house was always planned to be a research lab; with our partners at SolarTech, we are fulfilling that mission and we welcome other opportunities for collaborative research.”

View the energy consumption analysis.