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Inhabitat's Week in Green: ECOLAR house, transparent solar panel and Star Wars terrariums


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Each week our friends at Inhabitat recap the week's most interesting green developments and clean tech news for us -- it's the Week in Green.

For the past two weeks Inhabitat has been reporting live from the Solar Decathlon Europe in Madrid, where 18 student teams from around the world have been competing for the title of the world's most efficient solar-powered prefab house. As usual, suspense was running high in the final days of the competition, and we're excited to announce that Team Rhône-Alpes' Canopea House has been named this year's winner! The beautiful modular house took top honors in the architecture and sustainability categories, and it features a 10.7 kW photovoltaic array on the roof that produces more than enough energy to power the home.

Some of the other standouts at the Solar Decathlon Europe include Germany's ECOLAR House, which features a flexible, modular design that can expand or shrink to accommodate the needs of its owners. It came as no surprise that the German team was tops in the engineering category, and the team incorporated hemp insulation in the floors, walls and ceiling to prevent thermal loss. Team Andalucia's Patio 2.12 House, which consists of four separate prefabricated modules built around an interior courtyard, scored high marks for energy efficiency and innovation. And although Italy's MED in Italy House might not look like much on the outside, step inside and you'll enter a different world altogether. The highly efficient home features a central courtyard and a rooftop photovoltaic array that generates about 9.33 kWh of energy per year -- roughly double what it needs. Team Rome also added wall layers that can be filled with heavy materials to provide high thermal mass once the home is installed.

The Solar Decathlon isn't the only green architecture story we've been tracking this week, though. In China, Broad Sustainable Building is planning to break ground on the world's tallest building in November. But that's not all: The 220-story building will be prefabricated, and it's expected to take less than six months to build. In downtown Cape Town, Tsai Design has floated a proposal for an amazing High Line-style park on an unfinished elevated highway. And in the ocean off the coast of Grenada, artist Jason deCaires Taylor has added to his underwater sculpture garden, sinking a handful of suburban-looking concrete houses that will provide a home for coral, starfish and seaweed.

We've also been gearing up for the Paris Motor Show, which kicked off this week. Among the early headliners were Mercedes-Benz, which unveiled its sizzling new all-electric SLS AMG Coupe, and Porsche, which unveiled the new Panamera Sport Turismo plug-in hybrid concept. In other exciting green automotive news, the "Nemesis," a modified Lotus Exige, broke the UK speed record for electric vehicles when it reached a top speed of 151 mph. And Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill legalizing self-driving cars in California. A company called Scoot launched an electric scooter-sharing service in San Francisco, and Amtrak began testing 165-mph trains on its Northeast Corridor.

New green energy innovations continue to make it easier to satisfy our electricity needs without fossil fuels. This week, Sharp unveiled a transparent solar panel that can be mounted on high-rise windows without obstructing the view. Japanese electronics giant Hitachi invented a glass "disk" that's safe from fire, chemicals and water, and a Chicago-based entrepreneur unveiled plans for Everpurse, a handbag insert that will enable you to charge your phone on the go. Google made some news of its own this week by releasing new panoramic "sea views" of six of the most spectacular coral reefs in the Pacific Ocean. And in one of our favorite discoveries of the week, we stumbled upon artist Tony Larson's amazing Star Wars terrariums, in which he recreates iconic landscapes that are populated by Yoda, R2D2 and Ewoks.

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