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Solar panels have a reputation as being unsightly, but this U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon show home sheds the stereotype that photovoltaic arrays are eyesores.

Energy Solar Decathlon show home solar panels

Porches are a beloved element of the Southern vernacular and lifestyle, traditionally serving as an extension of the indoors—a shady place to gather, socialize, or share a meal. So when the students of Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, entered the Solar Decathlon, a biennial energy-efficient residential design competition, the iconic space figured prominently in their concept. “We wanted to share the context of the region,” says Chad Everhart, an architect and the faculty advisor to the 30 students who worked on the project. But beyond simply paying homage to its traditional role, the Appalachian State students recast the porch as a power generator, integrating architecture and engineering in a surprising and elegant way.

“We didn’t want to just tack solar panels onto the house; we wanted to integrate them with the design,” says Chelsea Royall, a graduate student and the project’s design director. To that end, the team installed a canopy of 42 bifacial solar panels by Sanyo atop a white pine trellis. The flat panels, which collect energy from direct light above and reflected light below, maximize the amount of energy generated per square foot by the 8.2 kW array. “The porch wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if we used regular solar panels,” says Royall. “Light filters through these, and opens up the whole space. It’s a different way to use solar panels that shows how beautiful they can be.” Today, the house, which won the Decathlon’s coveted People’s Choice Award, stands on the university’s campus, a thoughtful marriage of technology and aesthetics.

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