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Solar Decathlon Blog - Solar Decathlon 2015

Below you will find Solar Decathlon news from the Solar Decathlon 2015 archive, sorted by date.

Sponsors Rally Support for Solar Decathlon 2015

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

By Carol Laurie

The sponsors of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 have a lot in common. They’re not only impressive organizations but also care about education, workforce development, and clean energy solutions.  

“Wells Fargo is proud to be a sustaining sponsor for Solar Decathlon 2015, an event that aligns closely with our overall environmental commitment,” says Ashley Grosh, vice president, environmental affairs, Wells Fargo. “We congratulate everyone who is involved with this amazing student competition and appreciate their commitment to helping develop America’s clean technology infrastructure.” 

In addition to supporting the Solar Decathlon’s mission, our sponsors have fulfilled a variety of event needs.  

“Support from our generous sponsors is crucial to the success of the Solar Decathlon and the experience of thousands of student decathletes,” says Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon. “While we recognize our sponsors in a variety of ways, we cannot thank them enough for their dedication to everything that this amazing competition stands for.”

Alt: Photo of people cheering as a ribbon falls away from a giant pair of scissors.

Sponsors help ensure the success of the Solar Decathlon for thousands of student decathletes and visitors. Here, Sustaining Sponsors cut the ribbon to open the Solar Decathlon 2013 village to visitors. (Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

As of the end of July, the following sponsors have stepped up to support the Solar Decathlon.

Sustaining Sponsors

  • Edison International is the competition’s host utility sponsor, providing a temporary interconnection between Southern California Edison’s electric grid and the Solar Decathlon village microgrid, as well as much of the event’s infrastructure and furnishings.
  • Schneider Electric is providing the engineering design and supplemental equipment for the Solar Decathlon village microgrid. The company is also supplying the engineering design, hardware, software, and operation of the electrical microgrid monitoring system.
  • Wells Fargo is providing funds to meet several critical needs of the Solar Decathlon, including printing of the event Visitors Guide. The company is also partnering with Electrolux and Pella Corp. to sponsor Education Days and the Solar Decathlon 2015 Opening Reception.

Supporting Sponsors

  • Electrolux has partnered with Pella Corp. and Wells Fargo to sponsor Education Days programming, school bus grants, and the Solar Decathlon 2015 Opening Reception. This is the fourth U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon that Electrolux has sponsored.
  • Irvine Ranch Water District is a supporter of projects such as the Solar Decathlon that promote sustainability and water conservation practices. Irvine Ranch Water District will provide drinking water to Solar Decathlon village visitors as well as water service delivery and removal from the teams’ competition houses.
  • Pella Corp. is partnering with Electrolux and Wells Fargo to sponsor Education Days programming, school bus grants, and the Solar Decathlon 2015 Opening Reception. Pella Corp.’s sponsorship of the Solar Decathlon is just one part of the company’s commitment to education and environmental sustainability for its team members, its customers, and the communities in which Pella operates.
  • Tierra Verde Industries is providing waste management and recycling services for the Solar Decathlon. This is the second time that this green waste, wood waste, and construction and demolition materials recycler has supported the Solar Decathlon. 

Contributing Sponsors

  • ASHRAE is providing meals to Solar Decathlon 2015 student decathletes and jurors as well as other support for the event.
  • DMc Engineering provided layout and configuration of the Solar Decathlon village and other technical services to Solar Decathlon 2015.
  • The Home Depot is offering discounts on construction materials to student teams, donating tools and safety equipment to event organizers, and encouraging its customers to visit the Solar Decathlon by displaying outreach materials in its retail locations.
  • MicroPlanet is providing services to ensure that the Solar Decathlon 2015 village microgrid provides consistent, optimized voltage to each competing team and to ensure that the energy generated by each team’s PV installation is integrated smoothly back onto the microgrid.
  • National Association of Home Builders is providing building-industry outreach for Solar Decathlon 2015 as well as a meal for student decathletes.
  • The Orange County Register is publishing a special insert devoted to the Solar Decathlon as part of its role as the Solar Decathlon print media sponsor.
  • Orange County Transportation Authority is providing shuttle service from Irvine Station to the Solar Decathlon village, thanks to funding provided through a Clean Transportation grant from the Mobile Source Air Pollution Reduction Review Committee.
  • OxBlue is providing a time-lapse camera system that will transmit images from the Solar Decathlon village to the Solar Decathlon website for fans everywhere.
  • Resource Furniture is providing food for the team Victory Celebration.

Resource and Association Sponsors

  • American Institute of Architects Orange County
  • American Institute of Architects
  • American Society of Landscape Architects, Southern California Chapter
  • Autodesk
  • Construction Specifications Institute
  • Doctor’s Ambulance Service
  • International Code Council
  • National Fire Protection Association
  • National Institute of Building Sciences
  • RSMeans
  • U.S. Green Building Council Orange County, Los Angeles, and San Diego Chapters

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


University of California, Davis, Readies Aggie Sol for Farmworkers

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

The University of California, Davis, has strong pedigrees in both sustainable projects and agricultural research.  So even though Solar Decathlon 2015 is the first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon for the school, its Aggie Sol house already has a legacy to draw upon. Its sports teams are dubbed the Aggies for the school’s agricultural and sustainable bent, and its Solar Decathlon 2015 project reflects that mission.

“Sol means the motivation, innovation, and pride that come with being a UC Davis student,” says Robert Good, a civil engineering graduate who is now the team’s project manager.

That pride stems, in part, from the early 1970s, when the school built a series of residential structures called the Domes, which focused on alternative lifestyles and sustainability. In the past six years, there have been several additional initiatives to create sustainable housing, including the West Village on campus, said to be the largest planned net-zero energy community in the United States. In a symbolic gesture, Aggie Sol is being assembled across from the Domes on campus.

“We’re dedicating the design to the needs of farmworkers or agricultural workers,” Good says. “The engineering, the architecture, and the entire focus of our team are dedicated to achieving this goal while achieving an affordable price point.”

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house.

The University of California, Davis, Aggie Sol house includes a mud room for farmworkers to clean up in when they come home from outdoor field work. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 University of California, Davis, team)

The team is aiming for below-market-rate costs for its design, a concept that could make it more easily affordable to people who might have a critical need for such housing.

“We are making it affordable for the masses and workers,” Good says. “We saw the 2015 competition as an opportunity to approach that problem.”

Just under 1,000 ft 2, the wooden structure uses thick straw-bale walls that have a high R-value. To reduce both cost and energy consumption, the plumbing system will rely on gravity instead of pumps for water distribution to the fixtures.

The house is split into a double-wide modular layout, which the team believes will make it easy to fabricate, ship, and erect onsite. After the Solar Decathlon, it can be set up on a farm site.  Half of the space is in the style of a common “great family room,” combining a kitchen, dining room, and family room in one space for large group gatherings.

The other side is unique, Good believes. Along with private space that includes two bedrooms will be a mud room for workers to quickly clean up when they come home from outdoor field work. This includes a deck space, locker to store work clothes and muddy boots, laundry, and shower. Another locker holding clean clothes will enable the Aggie Sol resident to change and enter the house refreshed and dirt-free—a boon for those in farming occupations.

Aggie Sol is a university-wide project. So far, more than 300 students—from virtually all majors across the university, from engineering to English—have participated.

To overcome early organizational issues, they transformed the team setup to make it less formal.

“It was more fun to open up the discussions to anyone to participate. People could be less sensitive to the design critiques, which allowed us to sand the corners of our design down to something that really does work and effectively meets the project needs,” Good says.

The final location of the Aggie Sol house is still undecided. Local farm owners in the area have expressed interest, as have agricultural researchers, Good says.

Reaction has been strongly positive.  From the administration through the student body, “This has really made an impact on the university,” Good says.

He thinks Aggie Sol work will take root in the school curriculum, across the state, and beyond.

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


Yale University Seeks an Open Approach in Y-House

Monday, July 13, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

Although founded more than three centuries ago, Yale University is in its first Solar Decathlon this year. The team members had to scramble to make up for lost time. When they began their U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project nearly two years ago, the team consisted of eight inexperienced freshmen and sophomores.

“None of us has built a house before,” says Kate McMillan, co-project manager.

There were many moments when the crew seemed to hit dead ends—not enough time, money, experience, or backing—and yet somehow plowed through.

“But that’s one of the purposes of the competition. You start out with students who don’t have experience, and by the end of a year and a half, it’s crazy how much you do know,” McMillan says.

The team was fortified last semester by an infusion of grad students who were helping teach a class and then stayed on to advise.

Photo of a group of people.

Members of the Yale University team gather at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“That really helped us to have people who have built houses,” says team member Thaddeus Lee. “They told us we needed to think about going modular in the design.”

The expanded group of about 15 participants also decided to take advantage of the ambient breezes in the California climate, making the house site-specific.

As a result, there’s nothing elite or Ivy League about the approach to what they call the Y-House. Instead, the compact 750-ft2 shotgun-style structure is designed to reduce material costs and energy loads while giving the impression of spaciousness by integrating outdoor space. Natural ventilation will be maximized across the north-south axis of the house. Vents above the kitchen and bathroom areas allow for hot air to escape to lower mechanical cooling loads.

Computer-generated illustration of a solar-powered house.

The Y-House takes advantage of the ambient breezes of California’s climate for natural ventilation. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Yale University team)

The structure is geared for young professionals, who can enjoy a deck and trellised patio that effectively doubles the indoor space and forms a link to the outside, connecting to the community.  Photovoltaic panels will be on the trellis, which can be used separately as a standalone feature in the future.

“We entered this competition with the idea that, while the competition is great, we could drive the greater mission of sustainability with our building. Looking past the competition, we wanted a house we could retrofit and bring back to New Haven [Connecticut],” says Juan Pablo Ponce De Leon, project manager.

Still, gearing the Y-House for California doesn’t mean the influences of New Haven and New England are lacking.

“There’s a large tradition of outdoor patios if you walk around campus and town” that informs the house layout, Ponce De Leon says.

The basic building concept is to employ modular construction by working with a housing manufacturer in Oregon. The team will add components, including a solar panel racking system and lumber from a Yale forestry site to complete the project. Furnishings will be simple to allow for ease of configuration.

All the mechanical equipment will be in a module that will slot into the house. This “technopod”—which includes the bathroom, mechanical room, kitchen, and car-charging station—can be prefabricated and connected to the rest of the structure. And that’s where the fabled Old Blue network paid off. A Yale alumnus in the sustainable housing field is working with them on that aspect of the project.

The team is proud of how far it has come—and how much impact it might have.

“If undergraduates with no prior experience can design, build, and ship a net-zero house in under two years, it is exciting to imagine how our current generation might tackle issues of sustainability,” McMillan says.

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

EASI House Reflects New England—With a Dash of Central America

Monday, June 15, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana team is seeking a blend in its Efficient, Affordable, Solar, Innovation—or EASI—House.

A first-time Solar Decathlon entrant, the team wants its project to reflect two geographical areas. The team also wants to ensure that its modular home is both energy-efficient and affordable. In fact, the team is aiming for a price tag of $80,000 to $100,000 for the structure—a goal made realistic by working with a modular home company to help build the design.

“The primary aspect of the house we’re focusing on is the affordability,” says decathlete Jacob Harrelson, the team’s project manager, on campus at Western New England University in Springfield, Massachusetts. “We’re making it a modular house design so it can be picked up and taken anywhere you want. And within the competition limits, we’re trying to keep it on the small side.”

Computer-generated illustration of a solar-powered house.

EASI House from Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana features an affordable, modular design. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana team)

Still, the team wants the compact two-bedroom, 680-ft2 house to be comfortable even with a minimalist feel.

“We’re trying to build a house that’s reasonable for the average Baby Boomers retiring or new family who still wants space for kids,” says decathlete Nathan Lane, a civil engineering major and also the team project engineer.

As such, the team is trying to balance the space for living rooms and bedrooms. The team is using space-saving furniture to maximize living space and custom-designed, high-performance windows to maximize solar heat gain.

The team will opt for a little more insulation in the walls, but that could be cut back in locations with warmer climates (such as Central America). Twenty 250-watt photovoltaic panels mounted on the roof will provide solar energy for the ultra-efficient house.

One hope is that the design serves as a model for modular home builders to replicate in the future—with the costs going down with increased scale.

“It won’t be cookie-cutter. You can take the design and make it your own,” Lane says.

Also, such a modular structure can be placed on a truck and brought to the competition ready to be hooked up with minimal assembly.

The Central American students will contribute decoration and other finishing touches for the inside. “They’re going to add interior finishes,” Lane says. “That’s their culture in our project.”

So far, there haven’t been any communication issues because the Spanish-speaking students also speak English. And, if needed, the New England crew can toss in some Spanish—un poquito—for effect.

“We mostly communicate through late-night email and Skype chats,” says Harrelson, explaining that the Central American students are still in school and many of the U.S. engineers are working at internships.

Still, they are familiar with one another because both Central American universities visited the Springfield campus last year to help organize the effort. In all, the team is made up of 40 students, with 16 students from Western New England University, 12 students from Panama, and 12 students from Honduras.

The group is planning to stay on track with construction deadlines and is optimistic it can overcome a “rough learning curve.” Although there have been frustrations, says Lane, in the end, “We take pride in this, which pushes us ahead.”

The team hopes EASI House will return to the Western New England University campus and inspire future decathletes.

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

Cal Poly’s INhouse Opens to the Outdoors of Coastal California

Monday, June 8, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

INhouse, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project from the California Polytechnic State University team, is designed to respond to the university’s spectacular surroundings in San Luis Obispo near the Pacific Ocean.

“We focused on creating a coastal home that is true to that climate and the very unique indoor-outdoor living that we have here year-round,” says decathlete Lisa-Marie Mueller.

As such, the architecture is open. A 15-ft glass wall in the living room folds back accordion-style to double the living space.

The design also employs a variety of techniques to boost INhouse’s sustainability. For example, the team installed a gutter system that conveys rainwater to constructed wetlands to help native plants, and the house employs passive ventilation and natural lighting strategies.

Computer-generated illustration of a solar-powered house.

INhouse is designed for indoor-outdoor living in coastal California. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 California Polytechnic State University team)

INhouse also boasts several high-tech attributes. The team is using a palm oil-based phase-change material in the ductwork to cut down on HVAC needs. As the material changes between liquid and solid, it stores or releases significant energy. Just 1 in.3 of palm oil material can hold as much energy as 1 ft3 of concrete.

“It allows us to store a lot more energy in a lot smaller space,” says decathlete Alyssa Parr.

At night, the team can pump cool air to chill the phase-change material, and then, during the day, it can reverse the flow, venting collected heat outside.

In addition, the outdoor deck is covered by bifacial solar photovoltaic (PV) panels—with PV on the top and bottom. The array serves as an awning that provides shade but also lets about 25% of light through. The bottom PV collects reflected light bouncing up from the deck, thereby capturing up to 30% more energy than a single layer of PV. The 14 panels (each 6.43 ft by 3.25 ft) not only create a 4.9-kW renewable power system but also form a structure that looks attractive.

“Solar panels don’t just have to be on roofs. They can be integrated into the design,” Parr says.

Photo of a group of people.

Members of the California Polytechnic State University team gather at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

A second array is part of the core of the house.

The 100-member Cal Poly team, representing 12 majors, took its school’s motto of “learn by doing” seriously during the project. The name and story of the house developed over time.

Says Mueller, “We are now beginning construction and still developing and understanding the meaning of our home and how it relates in the context of the world around us.”

Mueller explains that the name INhouse describes the process the team has been going through—the design, engineering, and construction is really “in house” at Cal Poly. Also, three words—”interactive,” “intuitive,” and “integrated”—describe the technological-meets-natural features of the house. Mostly, it’s learning by doing—a process of iteration and trying many things before reaching a final conclusion.

The group is looking forward to sharing its results with visitors.

“Our house will feel big,” says Parr. “INhouse goes to show that in order to live sustainably, there are couple of key things you need, but you don’t have to make comfort sacrifices or completely change your lifestyle.”

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