A Solar-Powered Tiny Home That Tracks the Sun

SCU students stand next to the home's rooftop solar panels.SCU students stand next to the home's rooftop solar panels.

Traditional solar systems only gather power when the sun is directly overhead, leaving homeowners at a disadvantage as the sun moves throughout the day. But, what if the entire home could track the sun’s natural movement?

That is exactly what undergraduate students at Santa Clara University (SCU) did to combat the solar generation issue. This project home sits on a revolving base that allows rooftop solar panels to track the sun’s movement for continuous power generation.

The student-built tiny house is known as the rEvolve House and was constructed as part of the SMUD tiny house building competition. Teams from nine other California colleges also competed, but SCU secured first place for their efficient and accessible entry.

“Sustainability was a consistent theme for the house and impacted decisions throughout, but I think that the main focus was on providing the best house for our customer,” says SCU faculty advisor Timothy Hight. 

SCU built this home for Operation Freedom Paws, a charity that supplies veterans with trainable service dogs. As a result, the home relied on some elements of universal design. “Some of the impacts of that were the focus on an open, airy feel to the house, as well as the muted color palette, and the dog friendliness and decor,”says Hight. “The bathroom was also enlarged for easier access for less-abled users.” 

Aside from the home’s rotating base, the rEvolve House also contains innovative systems that maximize energy efficiency, such as saltwater batteries and a grey water system.

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TOUR: Solar-Powered Tiny Home that Tracks the Sun

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SCU stand next to the home's rooftop solar panels.
The rEvolve tiny home is powered by eight rooftop solar panels.

Rotating the Tiny Home

Hight describes the decision to install the tiny house onto a rotating base as a “leap of faith,” but one that ultimately improves generation efficiency while reducing solar heat gain.

The rEvolve House was built upon a Colussun PV rotation system that automatically follows the sun’s natural movement. This unique addition is typically used in utility-scale solar arrays, but the SCU team advises builders to think outside the box to improve energy usage.

“I would hope that other builders learn that tiny houses are a feasible solution to housing problems and that wild innovations, like the rotating aspect of our house, are not only feasible, but effective,” says rEvolve product manager JJ Gavin.

Eight rooftop solar panels gather power, which is then stored onto saltwater batteries from Aquion Battery. The saltwater batteries and rooftop solar panels enable the client to live off-grid.

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About The Author

Michael Black is a staff writer and content coordinator at TecHome Builder. He has a particular interest in new solar developments and smart energy systems and is always looking for the next smart home trend to cover. As the youngest member of the TecHome team, Michael brings a passion that keeps the team energized. He also is instrumental in leading our social media efforts.

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