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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.

West Virginia/Rome Team Merges Classical and Southern STILE

January 20, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

The aroma of Italian cooking will waft from STILE, the West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata entry in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015, during the team’s dinner parties. Those meals will showcase the Italian influence on this partnership between West Virginian and Italian cultures.

“I feel bad for whoever has to pick which dish to serve,” laughs Sharrafti Kuzmar, a junior studying electrical engineering who was also on West Virginia University’s Solar Decathlon 2013 team. “When we went to Rome last summer, the food was so amazing.”

Photo of a group of people talking.

Sharrafti Kuzmar, center, shares a light moment with teammates and Solar Decathlon Director Richard King (left) while visiting the West Virginia/Rome team lot at the Orange County Great Park competition site on Friday, Jan. 9. (Credit: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

STILE (the Italian spelling of “style”) stands for Sustainable Technologies Integrated in a Learning Experience and draws upon Appalachian roots and centuries-old Roman tradition. That, Kuzmar believes, makes the house unique.

The Solar Decathlon 2015 team has designed a compact house that will bring Roman culture to West Virginia. The house is covered by an elegant, classically inspired arch that runs north to south to support solar panels and create a natural patio that will provide passive cooling.

Computer-generated image of a modern-looking house.

STILE, the house being designed by the West Virginia/Rome team, blends Italian and West Virginian influences. (Courtesy of the West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata Solar Decathlon 2015 team)

To formulate project plans, the team has had to overcome obstacles—an effort that has helped unify the group. Something as simple as organizing team meetings requires careful coordination to bridge the six-hour time difference.

“We worked it out so that our meetings aren’t too late there or too early here,” says Kuzmar, a Morgantown, West Virginia, native.

To further team bonds, some members from West Virginia University traveled to Rome last summer to work directly on the project with their Italian teammates.

“That was a new experience for all of us,” Kuzmar says.

Photo of a group of young people.

Members of the Solar Decathlon 2015 West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata team gathered at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9 as part of activities associated with the Design Development Review Workshop. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

In addition, two Roman decathletes are currently studying at West Virginia University. Stefania Rossi is one of them.

“It is a very interesting experience working with both universities,” Rossi says.

The double-engineering major says that forging the two visions into one unified project “has been a good challenge.” As a result, she believes the house is the best of both worlds—a hybrid of old and new.

While in Morgantown, the Italian decathletes can experience West Virginia’s more rustic style and the 19th-century influences that shaped the STILE project. They can also see PEAK, West Virginia University’s Solar Decathlon 2013 house, in its permanent home at the West Virginia Botanic Garden.

The experience of building PEAK, an acronym for “Preserving Energy with Appalachian Knowledge,” has helped smooth the current process.

“Last time, we had trouble with plumbing,” Kuzmar says. “Now, we have a better understanding of the competition, thanks to things that came up unexpectedly in 2013.”

In addition to house design, the two universities are collaborating closely on the logistics of transporting STILE. “We’re figuring out how to break the house down at the same time we’re putting it up,” Kuzmar says.

The team credits its mentors, including principal investigator Dimitris Korakakis and experts in Rome, with helping the students gain practical experience and problem-solving skills—skills that Kuzmar, Rossi, and others hope to use in future careers in green building and clean tech.

As they ready for the first assembly of the house this summer, the team is also looking ahead to other aspects of the competition. One Italian student, who happens to be writing a cookbook, is eager to plan the menus for the team’s competition dinner parties, part of the Home Life Contest.

Kuzmar, who has already declared her awe of Italian cuisine, says simply, “I love the Italians.” Those mutual bonds are what give this project its zesty international flavor.

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

 

Solar Decathlon 2015 Kicks Off With Irvine Workshop

January 14, 2015

By Carol Laurie

The countdown begins! On Jan. 9 and 10, some 250 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 students, faculty, and organizers gathered in Irvine, California, for a workshop that served as the backdrop for a weekend of comradery and intense information download.

Photo of a large group of cheering people in front of a balloon and holding a banner that reads, “U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.”

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 teams gather at the Orange County Great Park on Friday, Jan. 9, for an all-team photo. (Credit: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

On Friday, Jan. 9, the teams walked the Orange County Great Park competition site, which was marked with chalk lines to indicate the Solar Decathlon village and each team’s lot. That evening, the Great Park Foundation hosted a dinner at which Irvine city council members welcomed the teams and each team presented a 3-minute introduction of its house design and philosophy.

“Mayor Choi and members of the city council got to hear firsthand from our decathletes and see images of their house designs,” said Solar Decathlon Director Richard King. “We are all excited for the competition to begin in October.”

Photo of a man standing behind a podium addressing people seated around tables.

Solar Decathlon Director Richard King addresses an audience of Solar Decathlon 2015 decathletes, faculty, city council members, and organizers at a welcome dinner hosted by the Great Park Foundation on Friday, Jan. 9. (Credit: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

The all-day Design Development Review workshop on Saturday, Jan. 10, immersed teams in the details of this challenging collegiate competition to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses. Solar Decathlon organizers held 15 unique sessions—on topics ranging from house designs to cost estimates to communications, media relations, and sponsorships—with each team.

“This intense, all-day workshop helps teams get their heads around what it will take to compete in the Solar Decathlon,” said Joe Simon, competition manager. “With 9 months to go until the start of contests in Irvine, teams must finish planning and start executing their designs.”

The 17 teams participating in Solar Decathlon 2015 include seven teams that have participated in past U.S. competitions. Since 2002, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon has involved 130 collegiate teams and nearly 20,000 decathletes.

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

 

 

 

Blaise Stoltenberg: A Shining Light for the Solar Decathlon

December 22, 2014

By Ernie Tucker

Blaise Stoltenberg, a U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon organizer, developed his vision for a clean energy future as a Solar Decathlon 2002 decathlete. He was a leader of the University of Colorado’s winning 2002 team and, in recent years, served as a coordinator for Solar Decathlon engineering juries. He did it all with a kind and giving spirit that inspired colleagues and friends.

That same spirit was tested for many months as Blaise battled myelodysplasia, or MDS, a bone marrow disease. On Dec. 16, he passed away at his Golden, Colorado, residence.

A Native of Sunny California Embraces Solar Research

A native of California, Blaise graduated in 1985 from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in a combined program with Claremont McKenna College. After gaining some professional experience, Blaise enrolled in a master’s degree program at the University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder, where he was drawn to the fledgling Solar Decathlon concept.

Photo of a group of men standing around a woman who is holding a large trophy.

Blaise Stoltenberg participated on the University of Colorado Solar Decathlon 2002 team, which took first place in the competition. In this photo, Blaise (second from left) celebrates with teammates. (Credit: Warren Gretz /NREL)

“Blaise was there at the start,” said CU professor Michael Brandemuehl, who recognized Blaise’s unique talents as they collaborated on the inaugural Solar Decathlon. Blaise was a leader of the original seven students on CU’s solar house project and headed up the mechanical systems team that earned first place in the Comfort Zone Contest.

Mike Wassmer, a 2002 teammate and former Solar Decathlon competition manager, recalled that the group referred to him as “Papa Blaise” because he was a mentor and “more mature than most of us.” Added Wassmer, “Whenever I got frustrated with the energy modeling (my main responsibility), he always spent time with me to help me get back on track.”

A Solar Decathlon Pioneer

Blaise’s Solar Decathlon pioneering efforts paved the way for other CU students to become decathletes, Brandemuehl said.

Following some years of engineering work in the private sector, Blaise joined the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2009 and became a key member of the Solar Decathlon organizer team.

Photo of four men standing in a row and smiling at the camera.

Blaise Stoltenberg (right) coordinated the Engineering Contest Jury for several Solar Decathlons. He is shown here with the 2011 Engineering Contest jurors. (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“Blaise helped in many ways. He was our engineering jury coordinator for several events—helping to select, guide, and support our juries both in advance of and on site at the Solar Decathlon to ensure that the teams were judged fairly and effectively,” said Solar Decathlon Competition Manager Joe Simon. “He also served as our go-to person for analysis whenever abnormal scoring or data-collection situations arose during the real-time competition.”

If, for example, a sensor didn’t collect information or a utility-grid power spike caused a dehumidifier to turn off overnight, Blaise used his acute analytical skills to determine a fair and equitable adjustment to scores and measurement data.

“He was always eager to lend a helping hand to our on-site observer or perform rules inspections. No matter the task, Blaise was happy to help,” Simon noted.

A devoted husband and father of two, Blaise cited his newborn son in the dedication to his 2003 master’s thesis, writing, “I hope that, in some way, this work will help make his future brighter.”

Even as he battled the disease, Blaise remained upbeat about his job and the future of solar energy. Through his work with Solar Decathlons and his efforts in the renewable energy field, Blaise Stoltenberg has indeed helped make the future brighter for generations to come.

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

 

Technology Spotlight: Home Sensors and Automation Systems

November 13, 2014

By Irene Ying and Alexis Powers

Saving energy doesn’t require sacrifice. It also doesn’t have to be complicated, thanks to occupancy and vacancy sensors and home automation systems.

Both energy-efficient and affordable, occupancy and vacancy sensors can reduce the electricity used for home lighting by as much as 30%. Occupancy sensors automatically turn lights on in response to motion—for instance, someone entering a room—and off if no motion is detected for some time. In contrast, vacancy sensors must be turned on manually but automatically turn lights off when a space is unoccupied for a specified time. Ideal for homes with pets, vacancy sensors are activated only by human occupants.

Both types of sensors use infrared technology to detect body heat and ultrasonic technology to detect movement. Some commercially available options also use photo sensors to detect daylight and keep lights off when there is sufficient natural light.

Photo of a vacancy sensor light switch on the wall.

Occupancy and vacancy sensors offer an energy-efficient way to manage home lighting use. (Credit: Alexis Powers/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Residential sensors are available for less than $20 per switch. Installation is relatively simple, and setup involves only basic programming. Because occupancy and vacancy sensors work with many kinds of lightbulbs—incandescent, fluorescent, and LED, to name just a few—they can easily integrate into an existing home lighting system.

For those looking to save energy on a larger scale, home automation systems are a convenient way to manage home energy use. They can be controlled in the house or remotely via mobile devices and be programmed to maintain specific conditions to make energy savings even more convenient. By monitoring and displaying energy use, home automation systems can also teach homeowners about their energy habits and ways to improve efficiency.

Although a home automation system is likely to result in savings over time, it requires an initial investment of $5,000 to $15,000. This includes components such as the control box, monitor screen, individual subsystems, and computer software.

Photo of a modern house that features two separated modules.

For Solar Decathlon 2013, the Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology team installed a house monitoring and automation system in its DALE house. These whole-house systems monitor and display energy use, which helps homeowners reduce their energy consumption. (Credit: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Many U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon teams have featured home automation systems in their competition houses. For example, in 2013, the Stanford University team installed a home automation system in its Start.Home. The system gathered electricity and water use data and provided continuous feedback to educate and inform the decathletes and visitors. The Solar Decathlon 2013 Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology team also installed a home monitoring and automation system in DALE. This system monitored energy and water consumption while collecting energy-generation data from the house’s photovoltaic array.

Irene Ying and Alexis Powers are members of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

 

Strong Ties Lead Solar Decathlon Alum to Career With Team Sponsor

November 10, 2014

By Irene Ying

David Lee works in business development at Lowe’s. He researches new opportunities and new business models that can help the company expand or reach new markets. And he landed this job, he says, thanks to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Lee was the communications manager of the Appalachian State University Solar Decathlon 2011 team, whose Solar Homestead won the People’s Choice Award. Participating in the Solar Decathlon, he says, provided him with invaluable experience and tools that resonate in the business world.

Photo of a young man speaking at a podium surrounded by a group of people.

David Lee accepts the Solar Decathlon 2011 People’s Choice Award on behalf of Appalachian State University. He says the Solar Decathlon was one of the most powerful experiences of his life. (Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“The process of developing a shared vision and the organizational abilities to carry out that vision are skills I developed through the Solar Decathlon that I put to use constantly in my work,” Lee says. “Additionally, during the competition, it was critical to be able to take the most complex technical specifications of home materials, systems, and technology and communicate those ideas succinctly in a way that anyone could understand.”

During the time Lee worked on the Solar Decathlon, he developed strong ties with team sponsors. Lowe’s was the team’s top sponsor and a sustaining sponsor of Solar Decathlon 2011. After that Solar Decathlon, Lee joined Lowe’s staff.

“The two and a half years I spent on the Appalachian State Solar Decathlon team formed the framework of some of the most influential experiences of my adult life. It gave me opportunities to develop a diverse array of skills, reinforced the value of hard work, facilitated deep personal and professional connections, and it directly led into a rewarding career,” Lee says.

Photo of a smiling young man.

David Lee, a Solar Decathlon 2011 alumnus from Appalachian State University, visited Solar Decathlon 2013 in Irvine, California. He says the Solar Decathlon gave him invaluable experience and skills that directly led to a rewarding career. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

The influence of the Solar Decathlon reaches far beyond offering real-world learning experience to decathletes, Lee says.

“The Solar Decathlon has an impact on every single person who has the chance to see a competition house. These houses show that, without a doubt, living more efficiently and independently, with a smaller environmental impact, in a net-zero-energy home is not something that requires a sacrifice of comfort or is a futuristic pipe dream,” Lee says. “Personal energy independence through affordable efficiency and solar power is a reality that is here today. Sharing that awareness with visitors to the Solar Decathlon is the biggest value that can be delivered.”

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