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Santa Clara Students Put Spin On Solar Power For 'Tiny House' Contest

SANTA CLARA (KPIX 5) -- The Sacramento Municipal Utility District's Tiny House competition this weekend is the inaugural contest challenging California college students to engineer a net-zero, miniature solar-powered house.

This year, one team is putting a spin on solar energy.

The reality of having solar panels is this: when your panels are pointed one way and the sun is shining from a different direction, you're not making a whole lot of electricity.

Introducing the Revolve House. It is a home that spins on a circular track to keep solar panels pointed directly at the sun.

"Initially we thought it was a little crazy, but we saw the energy boost that we were gonna get, and realized maybe it's not all that crazy," explained graduate student Martin Prado.

Revolve is the brainchild of Prado and a group of engineering students from Santa Clara University who've been working on the prototype for years. They are set to enter their creation into the first "Tiny House" contest this weekend.

A full revolution takes half an hour, so there's no getting dizzy. By tracking the sun, the students say you could live off the grid because the house will generate way more electricity than you'll use.

"So it gives you a boost of around 30 percent, said Prado. When we were running our energy calculations, it actually mattered most on the days where you don't get as much sun because the direct sunlight helps when it's cloudy because you need to optimize the angle.

Revolve packs a lot into a miniscule 238 square feet, including a kitchen, a convertible sleep area with fold away bed, a bathroom big enough for a wheelchair, heat and air conditioning and a rooftop deck.

A large ground level deck, combined with a wall garden that'll always face the sun, means your tan and tomatoes will never look better.

"I don't know how comfortable everyone will be in a tiny house," said Prado. "Once you get in there, it actually feels pretty spacious."

The house does not have a washer, dryer or dishwasher.

Not including labor, the retail cost of materials was about $80,000.

"Yeah, it's affordable," said Prado. "You're not paying a monthly utility since it's off grid, so you're saving money always. It's an option. We'll see if it catches on."

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