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AUS engineering team collaborates to design and build of a solar-powered home

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

A team of engineering students and faculty at American University of Sharjah (AUS) provided water management and net-zero energy solutions to a low-cost, sustainable and solar-powered home built for the Second Solar Decathlon Middle East (SDME) competition launching today, November 16. Designed and built in collaboration with a team of UAE and US universities, the eco-friendly home is over 1000-square-feet and was assembled at the SDME competition site at Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai. Results of the competition will be announced on November 26.

Coming together as team Desert Phoenix, students and faculty from AUS, the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT), American University in Dubai (AUD), and University of Louisville in the United States, are competing with seven other teams from around the world in the areas of Energy Management, Engineering and Construction, Architecture, Sustainability, Mobility, House Functioning, Communication, Energy Efficiency, Innovation, and Comfort Conditions.

The competition is organized by Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council. It is one of the largest solar decathlon competitions in the world designed to involve the youth in sustainable development processes. It encourages participants to use their creativity to develop solutions that support global efforts to reduce the negative impacts of climate change.

“The house combined the concepts of adaptability, flexibility and comfort in its built and design. We are using the most recent technologies in water, material and energy sustainability. Desert Pheonix has considered the UAE’s hot weather conditions in its design while also focusing on protecting the environment. The key focus for us is building a sustainable environment and infrastructure, which is a key theme area for UAE's vision2021,” said Dr. Mostafa Shabaan, Associate Professor in Electrical Engineering and AUS project team leader.

The two-story house consists of two bedrooms and two bathrooms supplied with multifunctional furniture, and a spacious kitchen equipped with energy-efficient smart appliances. Its mashrabiya facade provides optimum daylighting in accordance with the requirements of each space inside the house. The solar panels installed on the roof ensure that the house is powered with a net-zero energy from the DEWA grid. The house was built using sustainable and recycled materials, taking into account ease of assembly, disassembly and transportation.

The AUS members of the team designed and implemented the plumbing, greywater collection and treatment systems; and the solar energy usage and advanced energy storage system. The participation of civil and electrical engineering students was particularly vital for the design of the electrical systems, photovoltaic modules, battery storage, and plumbing and greywater systems, as well as the installation and testing of operations.

Members of the multidisciplinary AUS team are Dr. Shabaan; Dr. Mohammed Mortula, Professor in Civil Engineering; Dr. Kazi Fattah, Associate Professor in Civil Engineering; two master’s students and 10 undergraduate students from the College of Engineering (CEN).

Civil engineering graduate student Rokaia Mohamed Dawoud was part of a student team that worked on the design of the plumping and water treatment of the house with a focus on the greywater treatment system.

“With the help of my professors, I was able to come up with a fast and efficient design. The treated greywater that is produced would be used for landscaping and toilet flushing. It is a sustainable, smart and well-rounded system. I learned from this experience how to collaborate and communicate with a multidisciplinary team to achieve a common goal. I also learned about the various aspects of sustainability outside my field of study, such as sustainable architecture, and using solar panels for generation of electricity,” she said.

The experience was also rewarding for Mahdi Ali Mohammed, an electrical engineering graduate student, as he worked with experts in the field of solar energy system design. He was also responsible for the analysis of the electrical load in the house.

“While working on the solar energy system, we received some help from Hisham Al-Shaarani, an engineer with Rentech. His support helped me with the design process. I am working alone on my thesis so to work again in a large team was fulfilling. It also helped reduce the pressure we were under as we raced against time,” he said.

Dr. Shabaan noted the importance of engaging students in such projects.

“AUS is committed to providing practical opportunities for the students to enrich their academic and learning experiences. This could be one of the best, if not the best, opportunities for students to apply their theoretical knowledge in the practical field. It is also an excellent opportunity to exercise teamwork, learn to work under pressure, and hone many of the soft skills needed in the job market,” he said.

The Desert Pheonix’s eco-friendly home is now open to the public at the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park in Dubai.

The Desert Phoenix house was sponsored by GE Appliances/Haier, Rentech, Ideal Standard, Rheem, University of Louisville, AUS, HCT and AUD.

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