Team SCUTxCCSIC from the South China University of Technology built ‘X House’, which was the first prize winner of the Solar Decathlon Middle East
Team SCUTxCSCEC from South China University of Technology built ‘X House’, which was the first prize winner of the 2021 Solar Decathlon Middle East Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: A group of students from a university in China who bagged Dh1million for building the “smartest solar-powered house” said they want to dedicate the house to Dubai and inspire residents to make similar sustainable houses.

Team SCUTxCSCEC from the South China University of Technology built ‘X House’, which was the first prize winner of the Solar Decathlon Middle East (SDME), a competition for university students to design, build, operate solar-powered houses.

Team Sharjah of the University of Sharjah came second and bagged Dh800,000 while Team Go Smart from the University of Bahrain won the third place, with a Dh650,000 prize money.

Eight teams from 12 regional and international universities built innovative designs for low-cost, sustainable, net zero-energy homes as part of the second SDME. Net zero-energy buildings use an amount of energy that is equal to the renewable energy created on the site.

Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, Managing Director and CEO of Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) honoured the winners at an award ceremony in the SDME Village at Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, the largest single-site solar park in the world.

Dh20 million in total prizes

Al Tayer said the first and second competitions brought together more than 1,000 students and academics from local, regional, and international universities. He added: “The success of the two competitions, with prizes totalling over Dh20 million, consolidates the UAE’s position as a motivating platform for innovation and an incubator for creative minds as well as Dubai’s efforts as a city that adopts sustainable solutions, and provides youth the opportunity to create and innovate.”

The sponsorship by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, for this competition has been a great motivator for the youth who have provided quality innovations for smart and sustainable homes that have been designed to fit the cultural, social, and climatic conditions of the Middle East, Al Tayer added.

X House

The first place winners built a terrace roof house with sustainable design inspired by traditional atrium houses in the MENA region.

Speaking to Gulf News after the award ceremony, Wenhao Zhang, project manager of the Team SCUTxCCSIC, said: “We called our project the X House because we placed ‘X’ shaped wind catcher partitions in the ventilation layer between the two roofs to accelerate the natural ventilation.”

The team used electric aluminium plates to simulate the X-shaped wind catcher. “The interlayer can switch into different modes. It can cool down the PV (photovoltaic) panels as well as block sand and dust at the same time.”

Solar photovoltaic bifacial panels were used to shade the house from direct sunlight and capture and store solar power from the roof to generate electricity.

“It is not just a net-zero house. It is [an energy] positive house [that produces more energy than it consumes]. We can send four times the power that is needed for the house, to the [electricity] grid,” said Zhang.

The team added technologies to treat rain and dirty water to reuse it for irrigation of the patio.

Smart and sustainable

The X House also has a smart control system that uses an open source platform to connect and control all the devices and lighting in the house. Open source refers to software programme or platform with source code that is readily accessible and which can be modified or enhanced by anyone.

“We have made the house multi-functional to reduce the need for commuting and promote a more sustainable lifestyle. We can use technology, materials and equipment in our houses to make our lives more sustainable in the future,” Zhang said.

Zhang, a PhD student, said his team does not intend to take the project back to China. “It is suitable for the weather conditions here. It is worth leaving it here. We would like to see this project at the Expo 2020 Dubai and later some buyers or research houses can keep this house to inspire the people to build similar houses.”

He said it was “very urgent” to address the climate change with sustainable living. “So, we want to promote using such designs. This [prize] money will be used to fund some projects and activities related to that,” he added.

‘Share’ house

Noran Yasser Abdelaal, contest captain from Team Sharjah, said: “Our house is called ‘Share’ and it is about inclusivity as well as self-regenerating cycle. We had made the house adaptable to different modes and a place where you can work, play and entertain, all in the same place.”

Team Sharjah of the University of Sharjah-1637765882448
Team Sharjah from University of Sharjah won the second prize Image Credit: Supplied

With the combination of humans and machines, she said the team incorporated some innovative technologies, flexible designs and dynamic furniture.

With the COVID-19 pandemic, the team deemed it fit to add a sanitisation room. “Pandemic or not, sanitisation will be part of our normal lives now. The sanitisation room can also be integrated into existing houses,” she added.

Rami Al Najada, team health and safety officer said the team plans to take the house “back to our university where we can redesign it into a research lab where we can teach course materials related to building automation, solar energy etc. Instead of just showing this to tourists and residents, we can also teach course materials using this”.

Based on traditional design

Melad Alfuaij, site operation officer of Team Go Smart from the University of Bahrain, said the third place winners will also take their project back to their university to convert it into a research lab.

University of Bahrain-1637765884209
Team Go Smart from University of Bahrain won the third prize Image Credit: Supplied

“Our main message was that everyone can have a sustainable lifestyle with economical use of materials. Our house budget is very less. It is just Dh500,000. It was aimed at encouraging people to build similar houses,” he said.

The team developed a house based on the traditional Middle Eastern structure and design, with a modern-day twist on ventilation and natural lighting, to achieve sustainability.

They have implemented an architectural design that is nostalgic, with a high level of functionality in structure and systems, with flexible spaces for privacy and interchangeability. These are adaptive to the occupants’ needs through maximum elimination of solid walls.

Power, generation and distribution come from a PV solar system. The team selected highly efficient smart appliances with appropriate sizes to meet the occupants’ requirements to reduce consumption.

Also, the team achieved energy efficiency by implementing a centralised management system for occupants to control lighting and temperature while automating certain aspects to add to the overall ease of living.

The award ceremony was attended by Ahmad Buti Al Muhairbi, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Energy; Meghan Gregonis, United States Consul General in Dubai; Waleed Salman, Executive Vice President of Business Development and Excellence; and a number of diplomats, university presidents, professors, and students, and many officials from the public and private sectors.

DEWA organised the competition as part of its partnership with the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy with the US Department of Energy.

The students had worked for more than two years to design and build these smart houses taking to account the climate change in the region. The teams had only two weeks to build their prototype houses with prefabricated materials on site at the SDME Village.