What will the perfect, sustainable home of the future will look like? At a minimum, new green construction projects will make greater use of recycled materials and higher levels of insulation. The next step is adding solar panels and installing EV charging ports so commuters can drive green. Researchers in Austin, Texas imagined their ideal home of the future and engaged with the community to build an entire green neighborhood. Welcome to Pecan Street. Pecan Street, a local non-profit, developed the Mueller community, a 700-acre sustainable living project built on what was the old Mueller municipal airport. When the airport was torn down in 1999, citizens committed to redeveloping the area into a more sustainable neighborhood. Now, over 13 years later, there are green homes, office buildings, retail shops, and even a hospital. And they are all based on the ethos of doing more with less.

This area, only 3 miles from downtown Austin, plans to build more than 4,900 homes to LEED-ND standards, strict energy guidelines for neighborhood development. The project is supported by a $10.4 million DOE grant for demonstrating a neighborhood smart grid, and also $14 million from other partners. The money helps go towards building a distributed energy network where homes are able to power themselves and send excess energy back to the grid. In addition, funding was needed to build smart grid water and irrigation systems, advanced meters and home energy management systems, and providing assistance for purchasing plug-in EVs.

Many homes in the Mueller smart grid demonstration project are tasked with a unique, but fun job: to drive EVs as part of their normal lives for research. Since the air conditioner, nothing has been as big of a load on the electrical grid. With more EVs coming to garages across America, it's important to understand how big of an impact they will have on energy providers. And that is what the project intends to find out.

When you look around the community you see every type of EV from the extended-range Chevy Volt to the 100% electric Nissan Leaf. Expensive battery technology has inflated the price of EVs, but, in addition to the federal incentive of $7,500, the non-profit will match with another $7,500. This makes electric cars much more affordable for the people of Mueller.

The goal is to see if solar panels can allow for energy-neutral EV use, so as not to strap the grid with extra EV-charge load.

PECAN STREET

An interesting note that the study has found is that solar panels pointed west produced more energy than anticipated. (Typically, panels had been pointed south for presumably more sun exposure.) However, it was noticed that homes with western facing panels were almost completely off the grid during one of Austin's hottest summer.

Energy is a big concern going into the future, but also trending is the mass consumption of water. And while many efforts are still focused on energy conservation, Pecan Street is already conserving water with grey water recycling to irrigation and low-flow toilets and wash machines.

It's these kinds of efforts that will help change our energy future. Pecan Street has learned a lot from the Mueller demonstration project and are now seeking out other places to build, such as Dallas and parts of California.


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