Keya Lea

First Light, from the University of Wellington (NZ)

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UPDATE:  The Decathlon has taken place since the review of the model was written below.  See the First Light in the 2011 Solar Decathlon.  The team from Wellington U. won the Engineering and Energy Balance contests and clenched a podium finish as 3rd overall.  Not bad for their first Solar Decathlon effort.

– The University of Wellington, New Zealand, is creating an entry called First Light for the 2011 Solar Decathlon. Being located ‘down under’ the equator, its solar apparatus must face the north in order to obtain solar gain.

First Light, Victory University 700 square foot entry to the 2011 Solar Decathlon

First Light, Victoria University's latest model. Photo credit: www.firstlighthouse.ac.nz

In the United States, Canada, Europe and other countries located in the northern hemisphere, the solar glazing and solar panels must face the south in order to harness the sun.  In the southern hemisphere, however, solar implements must face the north in order to harvest energy from the sun.

In the southern hemisphere, ‘Down Under’ the equator, there is an opposite, yet similar reaction to the action that results in the swirling water pattern when a toilet is flushed; the water rotates in the other direction than it does in the northern hemisphere.

The Northern Hemisphere is highlighted in the graphic of the globe

The northern hemisphere is highlighted in yellow.

Well, maybe that isn’t a precise example, but the point is that some things are opposite on the other side of the globe.  If you’d like more specifics, check out the Coriolis Effect.

For the countries of Australia, New Zealand, as well as some countries in the continents of South America and Africa, shown in the unshaded part of the world map, their solar glazing and panels must face the north.  If you’re in the yellow shaded area, point your solar apparati to the south.


The team from the University of Wellington is building upon a vacation home concept called the “Kiwi bach”.  Its rectangular shape, along with its smaller size, 700 sq. feet, can allow it to be a potentially very efficient and affordable house.

The early April 2010 model of First Light from the U. of Wellington, New Zealand

Affordability in the Solar Decathlon homes is an important part of the scoring process.  If a house is estimated to cost less than $250,000, the team will receive all the available points.  If the house can be built for a cost between $250,000 and $600,000, then points will be lost.  If the project costs more than $600,000 the Solar Decathlon team will not receive any points in the affordability category.

First Light will be a compact house, but it appears that all the space on the roof will be used to mount both photovoltaic (PV) panels to create electricity as well as solar evacuated tubes to supply hot water to the household.  The panels appear to be mounted in a frame that surrounds the house.  This will help to keep the panels cooler because air can circulate around them. Cooler PV panels operate more efficiently than hot ones.

Here is an Off-the-Grid house where they learned this by building different frames for the PV panels.





>Locally sourced timber will be used to build the house.  This will help to cut down on the overall cost of the house (with lower transportation costs) as well as support the local economy.

While this house may be created with a beach home in mind, if the inner space is well designed, the house could comfortably house a couple or even a small family.

See First Light during the 2011 Solar Decathlon in all it’s glory.

The University of Wellington’s Solar Decathlon Website: firstlighthouse.ac.nz

First Light’s YouTube Channel – Check out their time lapse builds

First Light’s Facebook Page / Follow on Twitter: @FirstLight_NZ

Back to the 20 teams in the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

The 2011 Solar Decathlon Main Website: solardecathlon.gov


This is one of 20 models of a competition home entered in the 2011 Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon challenges university teams from around the world to create efficient, useful, attractive, zero-energy, solar powered homes. The 20 teams in the competition have created models and will construct their houses on the National Mall in the fall of 2011. The models were on display at NREL (National Renewable Energy Lab) in Golden, Colorado, for a couple of weeks in April of 2010, when I first went to have a sneak peek.



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