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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.



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