Programs Imitate People In Experimental Eco-House (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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Programs Imitate People In Experimental Eco-House

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:03
We travel now from northeast D.C. to Gaithersburg, Md. to visit a very special kind of house. It's on the campus of the National Institute of Standards and Technology. And here's the thing that makes this particular house so very special -- as Sabri Ben-Achour tells us, its residents are invisible.

MR. SABRI BEN-ACHOUR

00:00:22
So we're here with Hunter Fanney, who's chief of the Energy and Environment division here at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Now this green suburban house in the middle of your campus of high tech wonders -- what is that that we're looking at?

MR. HUNTER FANNEY

00:00:40
Yeah. What we're looking at is our net zero energy residential test facility. It's a 2,700 square foot home, 1,500 square foot basement. There's three bedrooms, three baths in the home. Yet, it has energy production capabilities on it. If you look at the main roof of the house you see a large solar system. That's to convert sunlight into electricity. And on the porch, you actually see some additional solar collectors. They're solar thermal collectors that convert sunlight into hot water.

MR. HUNTER FANNEY

00:01:11
And this home is designed with two objectives in mind. It's to show that we can meet net zero. That is, have a zero energy bill over the course of a year. The second long term objective is to provide a test bed so we can evaluate energy technologies of the future.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:01:29
But nobody's living there?

FANNEY

00:01:31
Well, there's actually four people living there. There's two working adults, a 14-year-old and an eight-year-old. But they're virtual people. So we can control every movement throughout the day. So we tell them when to get up, we tell them when to turn on each light, we tell them when to take a shower, how long the shower is. Everything is scripted so all of these actions actually take place. The washer and dryer, it all runs as a normal family of four would use it.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:01
So it's like there are ghosts living there.

FANNEY

00:02:04
In a way.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:04
Great. Well, let's go inside and see how it all works.

FANNEY

00:02:07
Let's do that. So come on in.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:12
It does have that new house smell.

FANNEY

00:02:14
So you really want to build this like a thermos jug. You want to minimize all the heat loss, heat gain. And you want to build it as tight as possible. We added four inches of insulation to the exterior. It turns out in the United States about 20 percent of the energy that leaves a heat pump or an air conditioner never gets into the space because of air leakage from the duct work. Here we can deliver it through a normal duct system, but everything's in the conditioned space. So if you lose any energy it's still in the house.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:47
So this is the bathroom and this is...

FANNEY

00:02:49
This is just an electronic scale.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:02:51
Looks like just a big -- well, it's huge. It's sort of like a metal table.

FANNEY

00:02:54
Right. And that's hooked up to the computer and that's how the virtual family of four takes a shower. So there's valves in the basement that open at a prescribed time. The water flows into this way tank which is sitting on the scale. And when it hits the target number, the showers cut off and the bucket is emptied. And yes, the 14-year-old has a much longer shower than the working adults.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:21
Now how did you figure out, you know, how long an average 14-year-old takes shower?

FANNEY

00:03:26
The Department of Energy, for decades, has done energy use survey data so they can tell us for a typical family of four, how much energy is used in showers, how much energy is used to wash your clothes, dry your clothes.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:39
Are you going to have other stuff here like a microwave, a blender...

FANNEY

00:03:43
Yeah, absolutely. We're starting to move that all in. Like, there's a coffee maker. There's a blender. There's a hairdryer. Basically everything you'd find in your home. And the computer will be cutting them on and cutting them off.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:03:55
This really is going to be like "Beetlejuice" or like "The Exorcist" in here.

FANNEY

00:03:59
It's going to be pretty cool.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:02
So on the one hand, you're going to see if this imaginary family can live a life that does not have any net energy consumption and then beyond that, you're going to do experiments. What kind of experiments are you going to do?

FANNEY

00:04:13
Well, then it's a test bed. So for example, we'd like to look at the effectiveness of distributing heat. We want to look at -- do we actually have methods of test and metrics in place that allow us to assess the relative effectiveness of these different geothermal loops that are in the house. It's really to develop the measurement science and the metrics to promote energy efficiency because right now for a lot of energy efficient technologies, those guides are not in place.

BEN-ACHOUR

00:04:41
All right. Well, thank you so much for taking us around.

FANNEY

00:04:45
Absolutely. Thank you for coming out and spending time with us this morning.

SHEIR

00:04:54
That was WAMU's Sabri Ben-Achour talking with Hunter Fanney, chief of the Energy and Environment division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. For photos of the net zero house and some tips on making your home more energy efficient, visit our website, metroconnection.org.

SHEIR

00:05:21
Time for a quick break. But when we get back, why a region known for its agricultural bounty is also grappling with hunger.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN

00:05:29
I come here. They usually give you some meats, cereal. I think two bags of food. It lasts a good while, actually.

SHEIR

00:05:37
That and more in a minute on "Metro Connection," here on WAMU 88.5.
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