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Denver, Colorado
October 5-15, 2017

Solar Decathlon Blog - Solar Decathlon 2013

Below you will find Solar Decathlon news from the Solar Decathlon 2013 archive, sorted by date.

Five Former Decathletes Who Became Entrepreneurs

Friday, January 13, 2017

By Alexis Powers

It’s no surprise that many of the top-notch students who have participated in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon go on to have successful careers in architecture and engineering. Some become collegiate professors, software engineers, analysts, energy consultants, and much more. We even have a newly elected official among our ranks—Chris Kennedy of the University of Colorado Boulder 2002’s first-place team—who won Colorado’s 23rd District State House race last month.

Given that more than 30,000 students have participated in the Solar Decathlon around the globe, it would be impossible to highlight all of the incredible things former decathletes have gone on to do in their careers. Still, it would be a shame not to mention several of the innovative entrepreneurs that have grown out of the competition. That’s why we chose a handful of individuals who are founders, co-founders, or CEOs of their own companies to feature in this blog post.

decathlete_entrepreneurs_011317
After participating in the Solar Decathlon, these entrepreneurial decathletes started their own companies.

 

•    Addison Godine, Founder and CEO of livelight
Once a key team member of the Middlebury College 2011 Solar Decathlon team, Addison went on to become the founder and CEO of livelight in Boston, Massachusetts. This company is working to develop a construction system that combines efficient prefabricated housing modules with a site-built “exoskeleton” to create a new model for urban housing that working people can afford.

•    Allison Kopf, Founder and CEO of Agrilyst
The project manager for Team California’s Solar Decathlon 2009 entry is the founder and CEO of Agrilyst, a farm management and analytics platform for indoor farms. The company’s SaaS platform tracks and analyzes all farm data in one place, enabling growers to optimize plant performance and reduce operating expenses. Agrilyst won the highly coveted Disrupt Cup at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in 2015 and was named one of FastCompany’s Most Innovative Companies in 2016. Allison was recently named the Association for Vertical Farming’s 2016 Changemaker of the Year.

•    Cole Hershkowitz, Founder and CEO at Chai Energy
Before launching Chai Energy, Cole led California Institute of Technology’s Solar Decathlon 2013 team to a second-place finish in the Engineering Contest. Caltech’s house featured a first-of-its-kind, gestural home control system equipped with Machine Vision and 3D maps to allow homeowners to turn off appliances with a simple point of the finger. His latest venture gives homeowners the ability to reduce their utility bill by leveraging smart meter data, analytics, and a great user experience.

•    David G. Schieren, CEO SunPower by EmPower
As the CEO of EmPower, David leads a company that installs high-performance solar energy and battery systems for homeowners and businesses. David and EmPower co-founder Gregory Sachs engineered, installed, and operated a solar hydrogen fuel cell and battery power plant for the New York Institute of Technology’s Solar Decathlon 2005 team. Since then, their company has gone on to install more than 1,500 solar PV systems for New Yorkers. EmPower also hosts an annual Solar Student Competition for local high school students. To date, this student competition has awarded more than $8,000 in scholarships.

•    Derek Ouyang, Lecturer at Stanford University and the Nueva Upper School, Founder at Cloud Arch Studio
Derek was part of Stanford University’s effort to compete in Solar Decathlon 2013 (check out his impressive TEDx talk here). After earning a dual bachelor’s in civil engineering and architectural design and a master’s in structural engineering, Derek began working on sustainable solutions for the built environment through teaching and practice. He teaches a project-based learning course at the core of a new Sustainable Urban Systems graduate program at Stanford, as well as an Introduction to Architecture class at a local high school. Derek also started his own design company, which engages a global network of designers and engineers in community-focused projects such as sustainable resources, affordable housing, and creative placemaking.

These past decathletes turned entrepreneurs—and their peers—are worth knowing about, connecting with, and being inspired by. You can browse more than 500 professional profiles associated with the competition by searching LinkedIn for Solar Decathlon. Also follow us on Facebook or Twitter to continue hearing about the great things solar decathletes are sure to accomplish in the future.

Über Smart Eco-Inventions Designed by Students

Friday, September 23, 2016

By Alexis Powers

Imagine building a single-family house with only hand-powered tools. Sounds crazy, right? Well, students from Clemson University built not just one such house, but two. They built a local version to stay in South Carolina and a traveling version to demonstrate this concept at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 competition. Their Sim[PLY] construction method allows an average person to assemble pre-cut, numbered components with just stainless steel zip ties. It’s like a three-dimensional puzzle of a 1,000-square-foot home…that’s also a totally livable home.

Students from Clemson University developed the Sim[PLY] structural building system, which uses a milling machine to cut plywood according to computer-generated cutting instructions. Photo from Clemson University Solar Decathlon 2015 Team

Students from Clemson University developed the Sim[PLY] structural building system, which uses a milling machine to cut plywood according to computer-generated cutting instructions. Photo from Clemson University Solar Decathlon 2015 Team

If your mind isn’t blown yet, now imagine a window shade that is activated by the sun’s heat—no cords, wands, or tabs needed. This kind of responsive architecture was just one component of an ecologically responsible house designed for the 2013 competition by students from the Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University. Their house, designed specifically for returning U.S. military veterans, used a network of activity sensors to analyze the lifestyle habits of its residents and recommend therapeutic solutions.

Photo of the exterior of the Team Capitol DC house.

Team Capitol DC developed an adaptable shading screen that improves energy performance in response to the exterior climate conditions. Photo from Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

While we’re at it, how about we eliminate clumsy, antiquated technologies such as light switches and remote controls? The Solar Decathlon 2011 team from the Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology programmed an Xbox Kinect system to be the command center of their eco-conscious home. Here, residents could use gestures to operate appliances and lights or turn on the TV just by sitting on the couch. This internet-connected house was even capable of conserving power generated by its solar panels if the forecast called for cloudy weather. Such smart home devices are still impressive five years later as the internet of things concept gains a foothold in today’s market.

Photo of a house diagram displayed on an iPad.

Students from the SCI-Arc/Caltech team designed an iPad app to control the lights, appliances, and entertainment system of their house during the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 competition. Photo from Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A comprehensive list of student ingenuity would go on and on. There’s the geopolymer concrete developed by UNC Charlotte students that replaces the conventional binding material responsible for 5%–8% of the worldwide carbon footprint with a waste product from coal production. There’s also the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York’s Growlarium that essentially puts a greenhouse around a regular house, then ventilates it automatically for efficiency, comfort, and year-round vegetation production. There are enough examples to complete dissertations and start companies, both of which have been done in several cases.

A canopy covering the enclosed portion of the University at Buffalo team’s GRoW Home serves as a trellis for plants, shades the house and deck to reduce cooling loads, and provides outdoor living space. Photo from Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A canopy covering the enclosed portion of the University at Buffalo team’s GRoW Home serves as a trellis for plants, shades the house and deck to reduce cooling loads, and provides outdoor living space. Photo from Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A major goal of the Energy Department and the Solar Decathlon is to speed up delivery of emerging technologies to the marketplace. While student-driven innovation has always been present at each biennial event, the 2017 competition will feature a new Innovation Contest for the first time. With cash prizes on the line, Solar Decathlon 2017 motivates students to exercise originality, solution-driven thinking, and impact analysis like never before.

Teams participating in Solar Decathlon 2017 are now hard at work designing houses powered entirely by the sun. On September 15, the students submitted their second set of deliverables to competition organizers. Although specific details won’t likely be revealed until closer to the start of the competition on October 5, 2017, follow Solar Decathlon on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to see these ideas develop in the meantime. Prepare to be inspired.

Technology Spotlight: Home Sensors and Automation Systems

Thursday, 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

Monday, 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.

 

Technology Spotlight: Heat Pumps

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

By Irene Ying

Temperature control, whether heating water for a bath in winter or cooling a bedroom on a blazing summer day, is essential to a comfortable home.

Heating and cooling eat up 48% of an average home’s energy bill, but you can have it all—comfort and efficiency—with heat pump systems. In contrast to conventional temperature control, which is achieved by generating heat or cold, these technologies “transfer” heat, which is far more efficient than creating it. In fact, a modern heat pump uses about 50% less electricity than a furnace or baseboard heater. In moderate climates, heat pumps can provide up to three times the energy they consume. As a bonus, in warm weather, heat pumps can do double-duty as air conditioners by moving hot air outside instead of in.

Three types of heat pumps, differentiated by heat source, are currently available: air, water, and geothermal.

Photo of a heat pump system.

A team member from the Santa Clara University Solar Decathlon 2013 team discusses the heat pump system in the team’s Radiant House. This system used hot water to heat the house and cold water to cool it. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Air-based systems generally use fans to extract heat from ambient air outside the house and then transfer the heat indoors. Air-based systems can also run in reverse, transferring indoor heat outdoors to cool the interior. Such systems are the easiest and most economical to install. However, because they rely on outside air temperature, air-source heat pumps are less efficient in climates in which temperatures dip below freezing.

Geothermal systems, which use the heat in the Earth’s crust, can reduce the energy cost of household heating by up to 60%. These systems use long loops of tubing buried in the ground to extract heat from the ground. Because the ground is warmer than air in winter, geothermal systems work more efficiently at lower temperatures than air-source systems. Likewise, the ground is cooler than the air in summer, so geothermal systems are also more efficient air-conditioning devices in hot climates. They are, however, more expensive than air-source installations.

Water-source systems transfer heat throughout a building using closed loops of water. These systems are able to simultaneously move hot and cold water to different parts of a building, depending on the needs. Thus, some parts of a building can be heated while others are cooled. For instance, the unwanted heat of a cold storage room could be used to heat a tank of hot water for washing. In addition, if the water heater is located in the basement, it can extract moisture from the air and act as a dehumidifier in wet summer months. This option can reduce water heating costs by up to 50%. However, this technology can require more extensive work to install.

Air isn’t the only thing that can be efficiently heated by heat exchange; water can also be heated using a heat pump water heater. Similar to the water-source heat pump, heat pump water heater systems work by drawing heat from the surroundings—for example, outdoor air in the summer and the warm ground in the winter—but use the energy to heat water instead of air. Compared to conventional water heaters, heat pump water heaters are up to three times more energy-efficient.

Many U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon teams have used heat pumps to achieve energy-efficient competition houses. In 2013, the University of North Carolina at Charlotte used a pump system with both heating and cooling capabilities, plus a system of capillary cubes circulating water, to achieve cooling without using compressors or refrigerants in the UrbanEden house. The University of Nevada Las Vegas team likewise used pump systems for heating and cooling its DesertSol, which was designed for the extreme conditions of desert living. Radiant House, from Santa Clara University, created a uniform living environment using a water-based heat pump system.

As the Solar Decathlon continues to demonstrate, amenities such as hot showers and air conditioning need not be sacrificed when constructing or living in an energy-efficient home.

Learn more about the benefits of the various types of heat pumps at the Energy Savers website.

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

 

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