By Laura Toraldo
On a small patch of land beside PEPCO’s Rockville Service Center lives a home that is anything but ordinary.
Built around the University of Maryland’s Solar Decathalon WaterShed House, a student project that won first prize at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathalon in 2011, PEPCO’s WaterShed Sustainability Center is a multi-level innovator.
“Four colleges [within the university] were involved in the creation and concept,” said Scott Tjaden, a PEPCO environmental scientist and Maryland alumnus. “It was really a group effort.”
For PEPCO, housing WaterShed not only showed their support for the university, but serves as a continual teaching tool—an opportunity to educate and inspire, said PEPCO Smart Grid and Technology Manager Rob Stewart.
Teaching ways to save both energy and money, WaterShed is a source for real-life demonstrations of native-plant landscaping, smart thermostats, high-efficiency HVAC systems, and sustainable water practices.
“It’s a living lab,” said Stewart. “It’s a place where there is real data for UMD students to collect, but it is also a STEM outreach tool. Tours of students come in or even can get a 360 degree virtual tour.”
Since the ribbon was cut on Earth Day in 2014, nearly 55,000 people have come through WaterShed and the Sustainability Center. Hands-on teaching tools and interactive displays illustrate impressive results like solar panels that produce up to 9.24 kW of electricity daily, 350 local wetland plants that can purify grey water for reuse, and 15-inch-thick interior and exterior insulation that not only maximize energy efficiency, protect against wind and weather. The ultimate goal is to show visitors how they can utilize techniques used in WaterShed in their own home.
“We want to educate our customers on the benefits of sustainability as well as the investments that we’re making in smart grid and how we can deliver WaterShed-like benefits to them today,” said Stewart.
Stewart said smart grid technology has revolutionized the way they deliver metrics and rapidly process data for customers by using computer-based remote control and automation. It can also identify outages, re-route power and incorporate renewable energy sources into the grid and the markets.
“It is a great tool to change the way people think about sustainability,” Tjaden said.
WaterShed also illustrates the use of electric vehicle stations. Leading the charge, PEPCO developed the first utility standards for electric vehicles, and Stewart anticipates growing demand for charging stations in the coming years.
“We project around 250,000 electric vehicles on the road in Maryland by 2025,” he said.
While WaterShed is a glimpse towards the future of energy in Maryland, it also proves that a sustainable home can be equally attainable and beautiful. With an open floor plan, dual-purpose dehumidifier and wall waterfall, solar-heated bathroom floor tiles, and a view of constructed wetlands from your shower, it illustrates that being “green” doesn’t mean skimping on aesthetics.
Stewart said PEPCO values the resourcefulness of WaterShed and the opportunities obtaining it provides.
“We are very honored to be entrusted with the care of Watershed and hope it will continue to service the community for years to come.”
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