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Prefab smart home is solar powered by design

For our Home of the Future, solar power is integrated from the very beginning

Welcome to Season 2 of Home of the Future, a six-part video series co-produced by Curbed and The Verge that chronicles the buildout of a prefab home in Austin, Texas—designed with cutting-edge technology, sustainability, and innovation in mind. This week, we explore how to power our house sustainably. Stay tuned for new video episodes on our Facebook page.

Home construction today increasingly embraces sustainability from the get-go—California will require solar panels on all new homes by 2020. So, of course, our Home of the Future had to follow suit.

After last week’s episode, we had an efficiently built two-bedroom prefab shell of a house to work with. Now we have to think about how to power it sustainably with the most innovative technologies available right now.

Solar is currently the most cost-effective source of renewable energy—you can even make money by selling excess power back to the grid. U.S. installations doubled between 2015 and 2016, and with aggressive mandates like California’s, the number of solar-powered homes will only go up from here. And they will probably stop sticking out like a sore thumb.

Moving on from bulky tack-on solar panels with which we’re all too familiar, companies like Tesla, Sistine Solar, and Forward Labs are introducing sleeker, low-profile designs that cleverly blend into, if not actually serve as, the roofing of the house. We’re after the latter: For our Home of the Future, the solar panels are the roof—of the carport attached to the main volume—functioning as structure and power source while showing passersby how sustainability can be built right into a home.

This particular setup, from Austin-based company Lighthouse Solar, produces enough energy to power roughly 60 percent of our home’s needs, while unused energy is stored in a lithium-ion battery. The modular nature of the solar cells means it could also be scaled up to support greater energy needs.

But the less energy we use, the less power we’ll need to generate—and technology like real-time energy monitoring can help us get there. According to Peter Sandford, whose company, Smarter Homes, provided smart home integration for our house, decisions like automating the A/C to turn on only at certain parts of the day and installing smart LED lights and smart fans can make a big difference in lowering everyday energy usage.

For a closer look at our solar power and energy-monitoring setup, watch Episode 2 of Home of the Future above. Do check back weekly to see how we flesh out the house with the latest technologies for comfort, convenience, and sustainable living.