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Solar Decathlon Europe 2014: Perspective of a Manufacturer, Observer, and Building Technology Enthusiast

Thursday, June 26, 2014

By Meredith Tunick

When I arrived onsite yesterday, Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 student teams were in the middle of the final phase of heavy construction of their self-designed and self-built project houses. The scene was filled with intense energy as students—fully equipped with hard hats, steel-toed boots, and safety gear—moved around their construction sites in a sort of synchronized dance of home production. The air smelled of dirt, lumber, and teamwork.

My experience with the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon dates back to 2005, when I toured the houses on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. I attended the competition not as an employee of a manufacturing company or a Solar Decathlon sponsor but as a private individual interested in emerging energy and building technology. My first encounter with the Solar Decathlon was significant, and I’ve been passionate about it ever since.

Photo of a man and woman wearing hard hats and safety vests inside a house under construction.

Rory Stevens of Team Inside Out (Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany) talks with Annette Wagner, Bosch, Government Affairs, Brussels, and explains how the team used innovative fabrics and techniques to design the structure of its house. Credit: Meredith Tunick

Fast forward to Solar Decathlon Europe 2014, currently underway in Versailles, France. After signing in at the main registration desk on the event grounds, just off the main entrance to the Palace of Versailles, I received a visitor pass, hard hat, safety vest, and a pair of work boots. My colleague Annette Wagner, who had taken the train down from Brussels to join me for the site tour, and I met up with Louise Holloway, communications and brand identity specialist for Solar Decathlon Europe 2014. Louise provided us with a tour of the full site and shared her enthusiasm with us about what the students had accomplished. While briefing us on all the team project concepts, she thoughtfully answered our questions, tended to critical logistics issues, and while doing so, waved and greeted students, volunteers, and other onsite personnel with a smile and an encouraging attitude. Like so many other Solar Decathlon staff members I have come across, Louise has a sharp-edged eye for detail, an immense talent for multi-tasking, and the supreme capacity of charisma.

During our tour, Louise introduced us to the two Solar Decathlon Europe teams that incorporate U.S. universities: Team Inside Out—a collaborative project that includes Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany—and Team Réciprocité, an alliance of Appalachian State University and Université d’Angers, France. We spent time with Rory Stevens of Team Inside Out as he explained his team’s solar-powered passive house that uses curving surfaces and high-performance textiles. Rory took us inside Techstyle Haus to get a better look at the interior structural steel ribs that hold the house together.

One more day remains until the competition’s opening ceremony, which will take place on Friday, June 27. I can’t wait to see what the final products look like! What an amazing endeavor and a fantastic opportunity for these student teams to showcase their innovative designs, expertise, and outside-the-box thinking. More to come from the event grounds of Solar Decathlon Europe 2014, here in Versailles, France. Au revoir!

Meredith Tunick is manager, Federal Government Affairs, Bosch North America.

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