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The success of any research project depends on its ability to bring results to the marketplace.
Communicating energy action
10ACTION is a new project co-financed by the European Union under the Intelligent Energy Europe program, that aims to communicate information about state of the art technologies regarding energy efficiency and renewable energy in buildings, and is doing so through a wide range of activities including model house viewings, competitions for children and professional events.
Professor Sergio Vega describes the origins of 10ACTION. “I am a professor of research at the school of architecture of the Technical University of Madrid. In 2007, after having participated in the Solar Decathlon competition in the USA, we decided to bring the Spanish and U.S. governments together in order to try and organise a complementary competition for Europe. They agreed upon this, and the Spanish government selected our institution to hold the first Solar Decathlon Europe in 2010.”
The Solar Decathlon is a competition originally designed by the U.S. Department of Energy in which teams from universities are challenged to design and build houses that consume as few natural resources as possible and produce minimum waste products during their life cycle. Particular emphasis is put on reducing energy consumption and on obtaining all the necessary energy from the sun.
“At the 2010 event we had more than 75 different activities going on, catering for a whole spectrum of people from children to building professionals,” says Vega. “The general public were able to look inside the solar houses, we had workshops for students that helped to explain the technologies involved and we even had tapas being cooked using solar energy!“The event was a great success, and really helped to highlight the issues surrounding sustainable energy consumption to everyone who attended. However, at this point these activities were only available for a small number of people in Spain, and so we started thinking of ways in which we could extend the influence and activities of the Solar Decathlon Europe to other European countries. That is how we came upon the idea of the 10ACTION project.”
10ACTION aims to bring numerous dissemination activities based on the knowledge gained from the Solar Decathlon Europe to five different target groups around Europe: children, adolescents, university students, professionals and the general public. The communication is directed towards high social and media impact through webpages, social networking, newspapers, conferences and more.
The solar houses constitute one of the primary ways in which to familiarise people of all ages with the integrated renewable energy resources, with 13 exhibitions of Solar Decathlon houses having been organised in several European countries including France, England, Germany, Spain and Finland. Visitors are able to explore the houses while a university specialist provides appropriate explanations, specifies how the technologies work and emphasises the importance of responsible and efficient energy use.
"The houses allow us to disseminate the information to the visitors in an engaging and practical format," explains Vega. In addition, visitors are supplied with leaflets that include comprehensive information regarding several aspects of the house, with it being made clear that the technologies displayed can be easily integrated in a common house without interfering negatively in the house aesthetics or the citizen's lifestyle.
The house exhibitions have proven to be very successful, one example being the exhibition of the University of Rosenheim's house 'IKAROS' at the Bau 2011 trade fair in Munich, which received around 1200 visitors each day. The house received very positive feedback from people in the exhibition, with 88% of visitors expressing an interest in buying or constructing a similar energy efficient dwelling after having viewed the house.
One of the oft-repeated mantras of the 10ACTION project is the need to engage all different target groups, and this has required some creative thinking in terms of trying to get the same messages across to groups such as children, whom one might think would not have an interest in a subject such as energy efficiency. "One of the ways we have tried to get children involved is through the Solar Energy Drawing Competition," says Vega. "This has been entered by around one thousand children from around Europe, and encourages them to illustrate the use of solar energy." Furthermore the Austrian Energy Agency developed the webgame “My Energy Smarthome” that teaches the children how to build a sustainable house and how to save energy. Available in English, German, Spanish, Greek, Austrian and Portuguese.
University students, particularly those studying engineering and architecture, are getting involved through a series of lectures and powerpoint presentations that have been published online. These materials can be used by teachers as a preparation for debates concerning emission levels and what the ideal sustainable city would look like, or they can be studied independently by the students.
The high level of social impact remains the most important factor when designing the dissemination activities, as Vega explains: “In Spain we had about 2000 hits in the media via television, radio, the press, etc. over the course of 2010,” he says, “and we so we hope that this will help the project have a huge positive impact on the people it reaches. We feel that the ideas that we are trying to convey about the responsible use of energy, energy efficiency in business and the necessity to develop a more sustainable world are not only incredibly important but also relevant to everyone.”
With the current 10ACTION project set to finish this December, plans are already under way to create a new project to continue in the same vein. "The next competition is probably going to be held in Paris in 2014, and then in 2016 we will have hopefully transferred the organisation of the competition to the European Commission," says Vega. "This is an ongoing concept, and we hope to be teaching people about sustainable energy systems for many years."
Click here to access the project website.
Published: Tuesday, 27th November 2012