Transportation to Irvine
One of the aspects of the Solar Decathlon that is easy to forget and yet is absolutely crucial to a team’s success is the method of transportation. While it is hard to imagine, standing in a finished house, that it was standing complete in a parking lot close to 3000 miles away only a couple of weeks before, every Solar Decathlon team has to make decisions and solve problems that most builders will never face. I can remember the struggles that several of the 2011 teams faced during the build because of damaged, late, or disordered house components. One team waited for days before their first truck arrived, sitting around at their site with little to do, and after their components arrived, most teams discovered that at least some part of their house had been damaged in transit. For Team Middlebury, the unexpected arrival of Hurricane Irene stopped several of our trucks in their tracks. Destroyed bridges, heavy rains, and permitting issues with our wide loads held up some of our trucks in New York State, putting some of our roof modules out of the intended order of arrival. Furthermore, though we had carefully waterproofed all of the modules for transport, one of the modules leaked, causing some minor water damage, which had to be repaired later. In the end, everything worked out well: we were able to finish the house and repair the damage from the hurricane in time for the competition.
As we entered Solar Decathlon 2013, and recognized that we would have to transport our house six times further, we began discussing modes of transportation. We hoped to find a method of transportation that was cost-effective, could provide adequate protection for our house components, would work with our timeframe, and would present a minimum of logistical problems. Equally important as part of our mission to follow sustainable practices not only in the construction of our house but in every aspect of the project , Team Middlebury College made it a priority to evaluate both the efficiency and carbon impact of our transportation options. We evaluated options ranging from trucking overland, shipping through the Panama Canal, even joking about using a giant helium-filled airship to move the entire finished house. After weeks of discussion, we chose to use rail freight. Our house was designed to fit into 5 shipping containers, which will protect all of the components from the weather, then trucked to the nearest rail depot, where it will be loaded onto a train and shipped cross country. Not only will shipping by rail keep our components together so that they can be delivered on time and in order, but it will also reduce costs and significantly reduce our carbon emissions, because railroads produce one-third the amount of carbon per ton per mile compared to trucking.
Our commitment to rail as a more sustainable means of transport has had an enormous impact on our design. Every component of our house has been designed to fit inside the 8’ opening of a shipping container. The prominent steel structure visible on the interior and the placement of the divides in the green roof and the solar path on the exterior divides the house into sections which will be disassembled and slid into a container. The tall mechanical mod dimensions are also determined by this 8’ margin. These visible representations of the way the house comes apart serve as a reminder of our efforts to reduce our carbon emissions and support a more sustainable national infrastructure.