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

Posts Tagged ‘Solar Decathlon’

Solar Decathlon Welcomes Sustaining Sponsor Wells Fargo

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

By Carol Laurie

Wells Fargo has returned as a sustaining sponsor of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, becoming the first sponsor to confirm sustaining-level support for Solar Decathlon 2015.

“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.”

Wells Fargo has sponsored the Solar Decathlon since 2011 and was a sustaining sponsor of Solar Decathlon 2013. The company has a long history of supporting environmental causes—including investments in more than 300 solar projects and 47 wind projects that generate enough clean, renewable energy to power hundreds of thousands of American homes each year.

Photo of a Wells Fargo building with solar panels on its roof.

Wells Fargo returns as a sustaining sponsor to Solar Decathlon 2015. The financial services company is committed to reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions and operating sustainably. (Photo courtesy of Wells Fargo)

“We’re thrilled to welcome back Wells Fargo as a partner and supporter of the Solar Decathlon,” says Richard King, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. “Sponsors like Wells Fargo make it possible for the Solar Decathlon to educate students and the public about the financial and environmental benefits of clean energy products and design solutions.”

In 2014, Wells Fargo, a community-based financial services company, launched the Wells Fargo Innovation Incubator, a $10-million environmental grant program for clean technology startups that is co-administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. A leader in reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions and operating sustainably, Wells Fargo has been recognized by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Center for Corporate Climate Leadership, the Carbon Disclosure Project, and the U.S. Green Building Council. Since 2005, Wells Fargo has provided more than $28 billion in environmental finance, supporting sustainable buildings and renewable energy projects nationwide.

Sustaining sponsors are the highest-level sponsors of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Sponsorships are based on a list of needs determined by event organizers.

If your company is interested in becoming a Solar Decathlon sponsor at any level, please contact Richard King at or visit our sponsor pages.

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

Clemson University Solves 3-D Jigsaw To Build a Solar House

Monday, January 26, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

It’s not easy to get 50 people to work together, meet deadlines, and exchange ideas on a long-term project. Sometimes, it feels like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. As Clemson University designed the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 project it calls Indigo Pine, that “puzzle” mentality may have influenced its approach.

“In South Carolina and much of the United States, homes are typically constructed using lightwood stick-framing methods that use small, light pieces,” says Lauren Kenner, an architecture graduate student who was part of the group’s early design team. “We looked at these techniques but found they required experienced labor and created potential safety hazards with nail guns and construction high on ladders.”

Photo of a group of young people.

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

So the team came up with a unique solution. It created a construction system called SimPly, which uses a computer numerical control, or CNC, wood router to cut pieces. The SimPly construction method employs traditional mortise and tenon joinery—with the tenon tongue fitting into the mortise hole. It’s a widely used application to join pieces of wood, particularly at 90° angles.

As a result, the structure of the house can be assembled without the use of power tools or cranes—something the team believes is an environmental benefit. Hazards are also minimized.

“It really does look like a 3-D puzzle when the pieces are laid out,” says Kenner.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house hovering above its blueprint floor plans.

Clemson University’s Indigo Pine house will be created using a computerized construction system that enables the team to email files to a partner in California, who will cut the pieces. The house can then be assembled onsite, with no shipping required. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Clemson University team)

The 1,000-ft2, three-bedroom house reflects the team’s Clemson, South Carolina, heritage—indigo is a famous dye from the state, and pine is a plentiful material used in the state for generations.

The team will construct Indigo Pine “East” in early spring. Yet, because of the SimPly system, computer plans for the house—rather than building materials—can be shipped anywhere. Parts can then be manufactured at any site using local materials.

That’s how the Clemson team will assemble its house—Indigo Pine “West”—at the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition site in Irvine, California. Working with a partner company in California, the decathletes will email their files and then pick up the pieces in the Golden State—no shipping required. Although they won’t have to truck wood across the country, South Carolina’s yellow pine will be there in spirit.

Computer-generated illustration of a modern house with large covered porch.

Indigo Pine has all the traditional elements of a Southern home but rewrites the vernacular to create a house for modern, sustainable living. (Courtesy of the Solar Decathlon 2015 Clemson University team)

“Other parts, such as windows and fixtures, will be the kind you can get from a store like Home Depot,” Kenner says.

To secure the structure of the house, the team will use stainless steel zip ties. Teammates at Clemson’s Charleston campus will design and craft custom cabinets to define space within the open interior of Indigo Pine and reflect traditional South Carolina vernacular style.

The concept for SimPly sustainable housing won’t end when Solar Decathlon 2015 is over. Kenner says one of the team’s ideas is to develop kits so that people all over the world can buy ready-to-assemble housing from stores in their own country.

After realizing early on that “working together was a lot more complicated than we thought,” Kenner says, the pieces of the teamwork puzzle began to fit together. One reason is university-sponsored “family” lunches on Thursdays, to which all decathletes are invited.

“These lunches make everyone feel a part of the Indigo Pine family,” Kenner says.

And surely, when the puzzle is re-assembled on site at Solar Decathlon 2015, the Clemson family will feel part of the world’s renewable energy solution.

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

West Virginia/Rome Team Merges Classical and Southern STILE

Tuesday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Monday, 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.