ECO-STRUCTURE recently caught up with Farah Ahmad, media spokesperson for the Solar Roofpod, the City College of New York’s entry for the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon.

How is your solar paneling unique?
To ensure optimal performance, the photovoltaic design uses microinverters in each individual panel, rather than regular inverters, to prevent shadows that might fall on only a portion of the array from decreasing the total output—as might happen in the city from leaves, snow, and the shadows of neighboring buildings. 
What other sustainable features have you incorporated into your design?
We used easily renewable (and fast-growing) materials for the interior, such as light-colored cork floors, poplar framing, and bamboo-plywood paneling. The HVAC system is driven by the sun’s thermal energy, using much less electricity from the PV array than a vapor-compression system. Solar thermal collectors on the solar trellis gather the sun’s heat, making direct use of this often-neglected abundant energy source. The thermal energy runs the adsorption system as well as the radiant floor system for cooling and heating. Our irrigation system is another sustainable feature—we collect stormwater and graywater for irrigation.
To integrate all the active systems of the Roofpod, the energy management and control system is designed to ensure seamless levels of comfort and to regulate energy consumption for maximum efficiency. The integrated monitoring system senses and responds to weather conditions by regulating artificial light levels and controlling exterior shading. Sensors collect lighting, heating, and cooling performance data and assemble it in a logger system. A next-generation graphic digital display allows the inhabitants to be aware of the Roofpod’s minute-to-minute performance, encouraging active energy-conscientiousness and potentially assisting the city with peak load management. 
What was the inspiration of your design, and does it display any regional influences?
As architecture and engineering students, we are the future custodians of New York City. Many of us in Team New York came here as immigrants from all over the world; we see tremendous potential to enhance our diverse and vibrant global city through innovative design. We saw rooftop spaces in our own city as the most underutilized spaces and wanted to take advantage of the large solar exposure they offer. 
How has the new affordability criteria affected the design of your house?
Making a home with more attractive features can negatively impact us in the competition: the houses that look “dull” score higher points because they don’t spend as much on attractive features. We lose points in the Affordability contest at the risk of making our house attractive. With our specific competition entry, we utilized attractive façade elements, which helped drive the cost up. 
What will happen to the house after the Solar Decathlon?
It will be assembled permanently on a rooftop location at the City College of New York’s campus as an office space, to be used by students to engage them in further research.