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House of the (near) future from Honda, UCD

honda house17W

Ralph J. Hexter, UC Davis Provost and executive vice chancellor, speaks to UCD and industry experts, government representatives and media gathered Tuesdays for a walk through of the Honda Smart Home US, next to UCD’s West Village apartments. The home is designed to “enable zero net energy living and transportation.” Sue Cockrell/Enterprise photo

By
From page A1 | March 26, 2014 |

Honda and UC Davis are betting a demonstration house with a small carbon footprint will make a big impression.

On Tuesday, the partners held a ceremonial opening for the aptly green-painted, 1,944-square-foot Honda Smart Home U.S.

Located just off the square in West Village — itself billed as a living laboratory for net-zero living — the house boasts a 9.5-kilowatt solar array, an experimental, Honda-designed Home Energy Management System and advanced lighting, heating and cooling systems.

Together, they should enable the occupant to use half as much as the owner of a new, similarly sized Davis-area home while producing enough electricity annually to power the house and a Honda Fit EV in its garage.

Researchers from UCD, Honda and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. will evaluate new technology in the house, which arrives as California and other states seek to reach zero net energy consumption goals for new buildings by 2020.

“If you want to address climate change, you need to think beyond cars to another major source of carbon: our home,” said Steve Center, vice president of the environmental business development office of American Honda Motor Co. Inc.

“Together, our homes and cars are responsible for 44 percent of CO2 emissions in the U.S. We need to, and we can, address both at once. That’s precisely what the Honda Smart Home demonstrates: a zero-carbon solution of living and mobility.”

The house and the Fit EV should achieve more than an 11-ton reduction in greenhouse gas emissions than a comparable house and car.

Put another way, a regular home consumes about 13.3 megawatt hours or electricity annually — while the Smart Home will pump about 2.6 megawatt hours’ worth back into the grid. That 15.9 megawatt hours difference could power a Fit EV for about 55,000 miles, Honda says.

“The house is the house of the near future — almost all of this is off-the-shelf right now,” said Michael Koenig, Honda Smart Home project leader.

One major exception: the company’s Home Energy Management System.

It monitors energy input and sends that energy where it’s needed — to the house, the car or to the grid. It’s paired with a 10 kilowatt-hour lithium battery, located in the garage, that stores energy from the solar array to be used at night.

The Fit EV as designed can take DC power directly from the solar panels or from the from the stationary battery. The car’s battery takes about two hours to charge during periods of bright sunlight.

The stationary battery begins to address two concerns for utility companies as more people use solar power and electric cars: the intermittent nature of energy production and the load needed to charge vehicles.

The battery provides a constant power output to the grid, Koenig said, so that it doesn’t need to react to the house’s loads fluctuating wildly. PG&E can also signal the house’s system to send more power into the grid at periods of peak demand.

Center said Honda is still feeling its way forward on energy management and storage systems. It’s also experimenting with home technology in Japan.

“Whether or not we ultimately decide to commercialize these technologies, it’s still critical that we understand them and the economics behind them,” Center said.

If the Home Management System is the brain of the Smart Home, then its beating heart — a single multi-function electric heat pump — sits inside its central mechanical room.

Selected and watched over by researchers from UCD’s Western Cooling Efficiency Center, the geothermal pump provides the radiant heat and cooling through the slab and ceiling, while also warming water for showers and the like. It’s connected to heat exchangers in the backyard that take advantage of the ground’s relative stable temperatures.

The system is also capable of capturing waste heat from inside of the house on hot days, rather than blowing it into the outside air like a conventional air conditioner. Heat from water pouring down the shower drain can also be recovered: it flows through an exchanger, warming up incoming water.

Graywater is also used to water drought-tolerant native plants in landscape designed by Cunningham Engineering of Davis. Honda estimates the house, with its low-flow fixtures and dual-flush toilets, will use about one-third as much water as a typical U.S. home.

A modern take on the whole-house fan by Davis Energy Group takes advantage of the Delta breeze. Using a tablet computer, the occupant can preset the temperature to which the mass of the home will cool overnight.

The same tablet may be used to monitor and control all of the house’s systems, from energy systems, down to window blinds, audio-visual equipment and the house’s UCD-designed lighting fixtures. All can be controlled remotely.

Researchers from the California Lighting Technology Center at UCD have designed the LED lighting system to be more than energy-efficient — it’s also meant to work with the body’s sleep cycle. Unlike some LEDs, compact flourescent bulbs or computer screens, the fixtures don’t use the blue light that suppresses melatonin and keeps users awake.

Emphasis also has been placed on increasing safety. Automatic amber lights create a nighttime path from the bedrooms to the bathroom and kitchen.

Other keys to the building’s efficiency are its passive solar design, which takes advantage of natural light, double-stud walls and triple-pain windows. Its roof is a reflective, durable metal, eliminating the need for shingles, which Koenig said are problematic to recycle, and also allows for the possibility of collecting rainwater in the future.

Honda has also emphasized the use of other green-building materials. “Every stick” of wood in the house, down to the custom furniture, is Forest Stewardship Council-certified, Koenig said.

MAK Design + Build of Davis lent its expertise to the house’s green-friendly finishes, doors and furnishings — including patio furniture made from recycled milk jugs.

Every pound of ordinary cement  puts out about a pound of carbon dioxide, so Honda attempted to offset that by working with a local factory to produce mix that’s 50-percent ash.

Honda has made a three-year commitment to the house project. It plans to make public the results of the efficiency studies, along with the house’s design specifications.

UCD Provost Ralph Hexter called the project “a shining example” of a public-private research partnership.

The company will not say how much it has spent on the project. It provides about $100,000 in funding annually to the campus’ Energy Efficiency Center as well as research support. An advisor to Honda’s environmental business development office, Aki Yasuoka, sits on the center’s board of advisors.

“For Honda, our own contribution will be when we develop these types of energy management systems, but, holistically, the greatest value of the project is if we can start the conversations (about sustainably),” Koenig said.

“Because one house by itself doesn’t move the needle, but if I can get five or 10 or a 1,000 people to talk about it and even if they’re just replacing the furniture in their house and they say, ‘Oh, I’ve never heard of FSC, I’ve never heard of organic materials or natural latex’ — if I can start those conversations, that’s the way to affect change.”

A UCD faculty or staff member will be selected to live in the house. Koenig has lived there over the past few weeks, while its systems were adjusted.

“If you forget the fact that it’s a laboratory, it’s actually a delightful place to stay,” he said.

After an open house this weekend, Honda says the smart home will be open infrequently, mostly for VIP tours. A small visitor’s center next to the house will be open daily.

— Online: http://www.hondasmarthome.com.

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Cory Golden

Cory Golden

The Enterprise's higher-education and congressional reporter. http://about.me/cory_golden
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