January 28, 2007 in Nation/World

State senator tests solar-powered home

Associated Press The Spokesman-Review

RICHMOND, Va. – State Sen. Frank Wagner is staying warm at his temporary address, even in below-freezing weather and without a traditional power supply or fireplace.

The Virginia Beach Republican, a proponent of alternative energy sources, is living for a week outside the Science Museum of Virginia in a solar-powered house designed and built by Virginia Tech students. He moved in Wednesday.

Using a remote control and a computer, Wagner is testing whether the award-winning home can generate enough electricity from the sun to run everyday home appliances – and still have enough left over to send to Richmond’s power grid or charge an electric car.

“The house is designed to be self-sufficient, but there’s a lot of things that could be adapted into existing houses today,” he said Friday, after spending his second almost glitch-free night in the 800-square-foot home.

The house is warmed by heat that comes up through the floor. It has a rainwater harvesting system and automated mood lighting. It also features a wide-screen TV and kitchen appliances chosen for their energy efficiency.

These features can be manipulated while sitting on a couch and tapping on a tablet computer connected to the building’s control system. All of it is powered by the sun’s energy, which is gathered by rooftop photovoltaic panels and stored in the home’s battery system.

“We want to show that you don’t have to huddle around candles and be dressed in all your clothes to be comfortable in a house powered by solar energy,” said Robert Schubert, associate dean of research for the College of Architecture and Urban Studies at Virginia Tech.

The home was built by 80 Virginia Tech engineering and architecture students and eight faculty members over 2 1/2 years.

Wagner said the house has been comfortable, but when the temperatures dipped into the 20s Thursday night, it froze the building’s water supply, sending him elsewhere for a shower Friday before heading to the General Assembly.

“It’s the first time anybody’s lived in there, so we’re going to have some glitches,” he said. “I can tell you, it’s a lot nicer than my hotel room, and my hotel room is pretty nice.”

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