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Photo of Solar Decathlon Director Richard King being interviewed by a videographer.

Solar Decathlon News Blog

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon News Blog provides regular updates about Solar Decathlon news and events. Learn what's happening now, and let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Alumnus Builds Houses, Career on Solar Decathlon Experience

September 22, 2014

By Irene Ying

Ryan Abendroth is the founder, principle, and practitioner of Passive Energy Designs in St. Louis, Missouri—a company that consults on high-performing, low-energy buildings. To date, he has consulted on more than 100 buildings to help others design and achieve ultra-efficient houses that are aesthetically pleasing and functionally livable. He credits this career to his participation in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2009, an event that he calls “transformative” to his life.

“The Solar Decathlon put me in touch with a company at the forefront of innovation within the building industry,” Abendroth says. “The knowledge I gained through the Solar Decathlon led directly to employment and set the foundation for the work I have done up to this point.”

Photo of a young man.

Solar Decathlon 2009 alumnus Ryan Abendroth owns a Passive House consultancy and credits the Solar Decathlon with laying the foundation for his career. (Photo courtesy Ryan Abendroth)

Abendroth became involved with the Solar Decathlon while studying architecture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where his work won scholarships and prize nominations. On the Solar Decathlon team, he performed energy modeling on Gable Home, which, like many of his projects post-Solar Decathlon, combined energy efficiency practices, traditional building techniques, and attractive design. He also contributed to the decision by the Illinois team to pursue Passivehaus Certification for Gable Home. Passive House is an energy performance standard that requires excellent insulation, solar gain and internal heating, airtightness, and high indoor air quality. The Illinois team won second place overall in the 2009 competition.

It was during his time working on Passivhaus Certification that Abendroth became interested in the passive house concept. This led him to interning at Passive House Institute US, a nonprofit organization that trains, certifies, and otherwise supports the advancement of the Passive House standard in North America. At the Passive House Institute US, Abendroth performed contract work and trained other professionals in Passive House standards. He eventually became the certification manager, which allowed him to interact with design teams across the United States. Out of this work came his current company, Passive Energy Designs, founded in 2010.

“My Solar Decathlon experience did not just benefit my work, but it laid the foundation for all my work to come,” Abendroth emphasizes. “It introduced me to the passive house concept, which, five years later, is still a main tenant of my business and life.”

Abendroth uses his expertise to consult on energy-efficient buildings. His work often includes performing detailed energy modeling calculations, engineering the building’s thermal envelope, and providing input into the building’s design. He also teaches and educates others about the passive house concept and standards. In addition to this work, he’s been part of two completed projects at the University of Kansas: the Prescott Passive House and the Center for Design Research.

Busy as he is, Abendroth still found time to go back to where it all started. In 2014, he joined the U.S.-German team of Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and University of Applied Sciences – Erfurt at Solar Decathlon Europe in Versailles. This time he participated as an instructor and consultant and calls it an “amazing experience” that he was grateful to be a part of.

“The camaraderie among the students both times I competed was excellent,” he says. “We built lasting friendships and lasting professional networks.”

Summarizing what the Solar Decathlon means to him, Abendroth adds, “It’s not just about a competition and the houses that are built, but rather an investment into all of the decathletes, their futures, and the future of the built environment.”

Irene Ying is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

Solar Decathlon 2015 Team Websites Provide New Insight

September 18, 2014

By Carol Laurie

If you’re ready for another glimpse into what the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 teams are up to, check out our updated 2015 team pages. They now include links to the teams’ own websites!

As part of the Communications Contest, teams create websites to share information about their projects and their progress. Over the next year, the teams will continue to expand their websites and social media presence. At the start of the competition in October 2015, Communications Contest jurors will evaluate the websites for effectiveness, ease of use, compliance with U.S. government standards, and other attributes.

Photo of a woman standing in front of signage and talking to a group of people who are holding clipboards.

Gwen Cook of Middlebury College gives Communications Contest jurors a house tour during Solar Decathlon 2013. The Communications Contest challenges teams to educate others about their houses, their experiences, and their projects. (Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

In addition to team electronic communications, the Communications Contest jurors review public exhibit materials and presentation, an audiovisual presentation, and overall communications strategy. They award points for quality, creativity, delivery, and innovation.

Stay tuned for more from the Solar Decathlon teams. In January 2015, we’ll post computer-animated walkthroughs and renderings of the team houses. In the meantime, learn all about the current plans and design concepts on the team websites.

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

 

 

DesertSol Makes Senator Reid Feel at Home

September 4, 2014

By Carol Laurie

On Aug. 28, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid visited DesertSol—the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV) house that won second place overall in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. Now located permanently at the Springs Preserve in central Las Vegas, Nevada, DesertSol has been one of the Preserve’s most popular attractions since it opened to the public in March 2014.

Senator Reid joined former UNLV decathletes for a tour of the house led by Alexia Chen. After the tour, the senator talked on the front patio with Solar Decathlon alumni about sustainability and what they have been doing since the competition.

Photo of a group of smiling people.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid joins former UNLV decathletes for a tour of DesertSol, the house that won second place overall in Solar Decathlon 2013. Included here are Solar Decathlon Director Richard King (second from left), Alexia Chen (fourth from left), and Senator Reid (center). (Credit: FFW Public Relations and Government Affairs)

“Everyone had a good time at this event—especially the decathletes, who were still marveling at the house they built and how it continues to teach the public. Several of the former UNLV students raved to me about what a beneficial learning experience the Solar Decathlon was for them,” said Richard King, Solar Decathlon director. “The senator’s visit was a proud moment for the students, the university, and the Springs Preserve.”

DesertSol is now a permanent exhibit in the Springs Preserve Botanical Gardens, where visitors can tour the house and learn more about its features. The University of Nevada Las Vegas designed the house to reflect the spirit of the Mojave Desert. With reverence to the sun as both a source of harsh conditions and a solution for sustainable living, DesertSol harnesses abundant sunlight for solar electricity while capturing rain to provide evaporative cooling and irrigation.

Photo of a modern house with people and cactus in front.

DesertSol is one of the most popular attractions at the Springs Preserve, a cultural site in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo courtesy Springs Preserve)

The Springs Preserve, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, is a 180-acre cultural institution designed to commemorate Las Vegas’ dynamic history and provide a vision for a sustainable future. The Springs Preserve features museums, galleries, outdoor events, colorful botanical gardens that include DesertSol, and an interpretive trail system through a scenic wetland habitat. Pardee Homes, one of the sponsors of DesertSol, helped the team prepare the site and rebuild the house at its permanent Springs Preserve location.

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

 

 

 

Solar Decathlon Leads to Patent-Pending Technology, Design Career for OSU Alumnus

August 27, 2014

By Carol Laurie

Matthew O’Kelly lives the benefits of his U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon experience.

O’Kelly participated twice in the Solar Decathlon—first as the HVAC engineer for The Ohio State University (OSU) 2009 team and then as the project engineer for the OSU 2011 team. Since then, O’Kelly has not only established a successful design career but also been instrumental in developing a patent-pending technology that began with the OSU 2011 competition house.

After graduating from OSU with his master’s degree in 2012, O’Kelly secured a job with Priority Designs, an industrial design firm based in Columbus, Ohio. He says that his Solar Decathlon experience was a major reason he got the job.

Photo of a group of people standing outdoors beside a tent and in front of a machine.

The 2012 energyhawc capstone team included (back row, from left) Matthew O’Kelly, Dr. Mark Walter, Marcy Kaercher, Brendan O’Shaughnessy, James Rowland, and Chris Schleich, (front row, from left) Scott Heckler, Sarah Weals, Lee Trask, and Fandi Peng. Photo courtesy of Matthew O’Kelly.

“The 2011 competition was the defining experience of my academic career at OSU, and it was essential in helping me transition from a student to a professional engineer. The Solar Decathlon provided me with a great opportunity to work on an engineering project of significant scale with an amazing and diverse team,” O’Kelly says. “The competition had a condensed timeline, fundraising, blue-sky research and development, hardcore engineering, hands-on fabrication, marketing, and integration between design and engineering. Describing the amount of work, perseverance, and coordination that went into building and designing our house went a long way in convincing Priority Designs and others who interviewed me of my teamwork and engineering skills.”

Since the 2011 competition, O’Kelly has continued working with Dr. Mark Walter, OSU associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and the faculty lead for both the 2009 and 2011 OSU Solar Decathlon teams. Together, they developed the patent-pending “energyhawc” whole-house conditioning system and have run three capstone courses for OSU seniors in Mechanical Engineering. O’Kelly credits Walter and the Solar Decathlon experience as pivotal in “adding depth, social responsibility, and mentorship to my engineering education.”

O’Kelly explains that energyhawc (“hawc” stands for “hybrid air water conditioner”) integrates air conditioning, heating, water heating, ventilation, and de-humidification in one appliance and is up to 50% more energy-efficient than other whole-house conditioning systems. At 33 in. wide by 44 in. long by 60 in. tall (including the water tank), energyhawc is about the same size as a traditional central air-conditioning unit.

Walter and O’Kelly created energyhawc as a modularized, more efficient implementation of the separate sensible and latent cooling concepts they experimented with in their 2011 competition house.

“The ideas for energyhawc came directly from the HVAC system that we developed for our 2011 Solar Decathlon house,” explains Walter. “If we had not built the house, we would not have recognized the need for and then developed the energyhawc technology.”

Recently, O’Kelly and Walter won a $100,000 Ohio Third Frontier Startup Validation Fund grant to continue commercializing energyhawc. They have also brought on board James Rowland, a former capstone team member and current OSU master’s student. In June 2014, the OSU Technology and Commercialization Office submitted a utility patent application. O’Kelly, Walter, and Rowland are now working on a third prototype.

Photo of a young man standing in front of an old stone building.

Solar Decathlon alumnus Matthew O’Kelly stands on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. O’Kelly is part of a team that has developed a patent-pending technology that began with the Solar Decathlon 2011 OSU house. Photo courtesy of Matthew O’Kelly.

“First and foremost, the Solar Decathlon is working to provide the novel solutions we will need to solve one of the greatest challenges of our generation: the energy crisis,” O’Kelly says. “The side effect of having students work on this problem is that we will have a new generation of engineering, architecture, and business people who are prepared to lead responsible and sustainable projects throughout the world.”

Although O’Kelly will continue to work with Walter and Rowland on energyhawc, he’s about to begin the next step in his professional career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will be a doctoral student in electrical and systems engineering. He intends to shift his focus from product design back to research on embedded systems and controls, but he still plans to keep energy, infrastructure, and sustainability at the forefront of his career.

“The students, organizers, and supporters I worked with through the Solar Decathlon have sharpened my resolve to create more sustainable products, buildings, and infrastructure through both social and technological change,” he says. “I believe that I am not alone in these goals and that events like the Solar Decathlon are very important in training the next generation of engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs who will lead this charge.”

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

 

Solar Decathlon Sponsors Share the Spotlight

August 25, 2014

By Carol Laurie

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon captures the attention of millions of people worldwide. As partners of the event, Solar Decathlon sponsors share this spotlight and gain outstanding exposure—onsite, online, in print, and over the air.

In 2013 alone, the Solar Decathlon achieved the following worldwide media coverage:

  • Total media impressions:  2 billion+
  • Total media stories: 2,400+
  • Online articles: 1,750+
  • Print articles: 350+ in 150 publications
  • Broadcast: 200+ television stories and 150+ radio interviews
  • Media attendance: 225 media onsite.

The Solar Decathlon also has impressive digital reach, with social media driving traffic to the website, where sponsors are recognized.

  • Solar Decathlon 2013 website: 3.2 million page views and 500,000 visitors
  • Facebook: 15,500+ fans
  • Twitter: More than 13,000 followers
  • YouTube: 1,200+ subscribers and 1 million+ video views
  • Flickr: 2.8 million overall image views
  • Instagram: 950 tagged photos by public.
Photo of a group of cheering people and a ribbon falling away after being cut by a woman holding a pair of giant scissors.

Solar Decathlon sponsors receive exposure to thousands of visitors and volunteers throughout the Solar Decathlon village. Top-level sponsors also have the opportunity to play an active role in ceremonies, such as this ribbon cutting, which opened Solar Decathlon 2013. Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

In addition, thousands of people visit the event in person to tour the competition houses. During the eight-day public exhibit in 2013:

  • 64,000 visitors took more than 300,000 house tours
  • More than 3,000 middle-school and high-school students and teachers attended Education Days
  • 1,200 volunteers donated 7,700 hours.

Throughout the Solar Decathlon village—on signage, in the Visitors Guide, and even on volunteer T-shirts—event sponsors receive exposure to thousands of visitors and volunteers. Depending on the level of sponsorship, sponsors can even receive outdoor exhibit space, speaking roles in ceremonies, co-branding opportunities, and more.

Increased exposure is just one of many ways Solar Decathlon sponsors benefit from partnering with this award-winning competition. Learn more by visiting our Sponsor page.

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.