University students build homes that plug into desert sunshine at Dubai solar farm

Enterprising teams construct eight solar-powered homes in bid to win a global contest

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University students from the Middle East, US, UK and China have built solar-powered, energy-efficient homes at Dubai's Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, as part of a global contest.

The eight homes use creative designs – one structure is inspired by the UAE’s traditional wind towers – to build compact living spaces able to withstand the desert heat, dust and high humidity.

The teams from 12 universities around the world are competing for Dh10 million ($2.7m) in prizes for design, architecture and energy management, as part of the second Solar Decathlon Middle East, organised by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority at the solar park.

The traditional atrium house and windcatcher show great experience of the olden times
Zhang Wenhao, team leader of South China University of Technology

The houses are ready and open for public viewing until November 25.

Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, chief executive of Dewa, said the challenge gave young people the opportunity “to develop innovative solutions that support global efforts to protect the planet from the effects of global warming, to ensure a brighter and more sustainable future for our generations to come”.

The houses will be evaluated over the next two weeks by a jury of experts from various sectors.

Emirati inspiration for Chinese design

The team from the South China University of Technology, in Guangzhou, in southern China's Guangdong province, has won an award for energy efficiency and scored high on sustainability.

Their one-bedroom space incorporates elements of the UAE’s wind tower design to control air flow into interior areas.

The students added panels and shutters to the wind tower – or windcatcher – on the roof to shield the house from sandstorms.

The boundary walls have solar cells that generate electricity and are also used to grow plants with drip irrigation.

“As architects we respect the past and first have to know the culture of the local area. We respect the older generation who did not have technology but used nature and we want to promote this,” Zhang Wenhao, team leader and PhD student from South China University of Technology, told The National.

“The traditional atrium house and windcatcher show great experience of the olden times.

“We built a prototype of a future house and have tried to cover every aspect from design to technology and also make people feel comfortable inside.”

As mandated by the contest rules, the houses are fitted with smart systems so equipment like the hob, washing machine and air conditioning units can be controlled via mobile devices.

The focus is for the model houses with living and outdoor areas to be cost effective, protect the environment and factor in the climate.

Competition celebrates sustainability

Mr Al Tayer said the contest was in line with the UAE's Year of the 50th celebrations, Expo 2020 Dubai and plans by the country to reach net zero by 2050.

“This supports the commitment to sustainability, its pioneering role in shaping the future, its relentless support to efforts to combat climate change, and its role as an incubator for creativity and innovation, especially among young people,” he said.

Students have assembled the homes on site using smart home solutions, energy saving technology and water conservation methods.

The participating teams are Team KU of Khalifa University, UAE; Team Sharjah of University of Sharjah, UAE; Team Desert Phoenix of University of Louisville (USA), Higher Colleges of Technology (UAE), American University in Dubai, and American University in Sharjah; Team Harmony of The British University in Dubai; Team Esteem of Heriot-Watt University, UK and Heriot-Watt University, Dubai; Team Tawazun of Manipal Academy of Higher Education Dubai Campus; Team Go Smart, University of Bahrain; Team SCUTxCCSIC of the South China University of Technology.

The first contest was organised in 2018 as part of a wider focus to address the need for sustainable living in the Middle East.

It is held under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai.

Dewa, the Dubai Supreme Council of Energy and the US Department of Energy signed an agreement to hold the awards in 2018 and 2021.

The houses are open for viewing at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park until 25 November 2021 from Sunday to Wednesday from 9am to 1pm and from Thursday to Saturday from 11am to 6pm.

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Updated: November 18, 2021, 10:42 AM