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Solar Decathlon Blog - Solar Decathlon 2020

Below you will find Solar Decathlon news from the Solar Decathlon 2020 archive, sorted by date.

Mentoring 101: How to Teach College Students What Textbooks Can’t

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Most colleges don’t offer a course that can teach you how to navigate the real world. Sure, classroom learning provides students with a solid technical foundation in their chosen areas of study, but essential professional skills like negotiation, compromise, and flexibility aren’t covered in most textbooks. For the answers to life’s most challenging questions, you need a mentor.

If there were degrees in Real Life Experience, a group of more than 30 students from Weber State University would earn top honors. These students managed to design and build a six-bedroom, 2,450 square foot home that is powered entirely by the sun and can go off grid for three days—or longer—as part of their Solar Decathlon 2020 senior project.

Jeremy Farner, an associate professor of building design and construction at Weber State University, served as the team’s faculty advisor on the project. Now that he has successfully advised two Solar Decathlon Design Challenge competitions and Weber State’s most recent Build Challenge, there is no doubt he has what it takes to mentor the next generation of green building professionals.

Several students from the WSU build team

Jeremy Farner, fourth from right, stands with students on the Solar Decathlon 2020 Build project team representing the Building Design & Construction, Interior Design, and Construction Management programs in February 2020. Photo by Weber State University

“My role is teaching these students, not just architecture and construction, but real-world resolve to work through problems,” said Jeremy. “Those problem-solving skills are essential to dealing with the challenges that life inevitably throws at you.”

A few guiding principles have helped Jeremy succeed in his role mentoring students throughout the Solar Decathlon. Spoiler alert: it’s not all hand-holding and grading on a curve.

Surrender Control

A desire to guide, but a refusal to lead, helped Jeremy ensure that he was empowering his students to make tough decisions and work hard.

“One thing that was clear from our very first class meeting was that Professor Farner was there to support our efforts, but wasn’t ‘in charge’ of the project,” said Ryan Williams, the Weber State team’s quality control lead. “We had to self-organize and work together more as a team than in any other class.”

Working as a team is easy when everything goes right. However, anyone with the most basic DIY construction experience knows that things tend to go wrong, or at best, not as expected. For Weber State, the team had to shift gears after completing a full year of work. They had done all of the demographic studies, completed the design, and were waiting for their property to be rezoned for higher density units. But when it became uncertain whether they could keep waiting and still complete the project by the competition deadline, they made the tough decision to pull the plug on their original plan.

close up of heavy machinery

Most students probably would never sign up to take a college course titled, “Whenever something could possibly go wrong on a construction site, it might,” but the Weber State Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Team got a lesson on that topic several times. Photo by Weber State University

“My students weren’t happy with that change. They were mad about abandoning so much hard work, but they knew it wasn’t an option to continue,” said Jeremy. “It would have been impossible for them to succeed with all of their eggs in that original basket.”

That difficult decision provided Janae Thomas-Watson, the Weber State team’s project manager, with her most valuable takeaway from the Solar Decathlon Build experience. “I was able to work with a solid group of dedicated folks who were willing to make hard decisions and sacrifices for the benefit of the build,” said Janae. “This shaped my perspective on a future career path because now I know that I need to align myself with a company and team of colleagues that share my same goals.”

Connect with Movers and Shakers

The team began looking for an alternative project to pursue right away. Fortunately, the City of Ogden, where the university is located, had been trying to revitalize neighborhoods where houses have been repossessed, abandoned, or torn down. Because Jeremy already sat on the Ogden City Civic Action Network, he heard about the group’s desire to build an affordable net zero home to showcase for the community.

When Jeremy’s students learned about this opportunity, they shifted right back into high gear. They started fundraising through the university in October, redid all of the project plans in November, and submitted the design for permitting in December.

Project partners who signed on to the project include the City of Ogden, Ogden Civic Action Network, the Davis Technical College, and multiple subcontractors who could ensure the student’s work met industry standards. Backed by various gift amounts from the College of Engineering, Applied Science and Technology, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences, College of Science, Facilities Management, Provost’s Office, Presidents Council, and Student Affairs, the team was able to break ground on January 4, 2020.

“The university administration was a huge supporter for us,” said Jeremy. “They wanted to involve as many students as possible and give back to the community in a significant way because we believe in the value of civic engagement and service learning.”

Share Your Passion

Now that construction on the Quincy Avenue Solar Decathlon house is complete, the team plans to pass along the gift of net zero living to a local resident. After opening the home for a public exhibition in late August 2020, the school will host a randomized auction to select a buyer from among those who submit a qualifying asking price offer. The appraised value of the home is $355,000, and it’s also worth noting that the house’s electric bills should amount to just over $100 over the course of an entire year—including charging an electric vehicle.

The outside of the WSU home

After outfitting Jeremy Farner’s personal home with a solar energy system, ES Solar Contractors stepped up as a local expert willing to provide 39 roof-mounted solar panels for the Weber State team’s Solar Decathlon 2020 Build project. Photo by Weber State University

“A big moment for our team came when the subcontractors started asking if they could buy it. First the framer, then the cabinet guys, the plumber, and our painter,” said Jeremy. “That’s when we knew it was really good.”

There’s only one small catch for the home’s future owner: they must agree to provide two years of utility bills to the university. This will allow Weber State to monitor how their energy modeling matches the home’s actual consumption. In this way, the cycle of giving back continues.

“I grew up around the biz,” said Jeremy. “My grandfather was a general contractor, so I remember telling my parents I wanted to be a wall builder as early as eight years old so I could follow in his footsteps.”

Jeremy’s early dream has now come full circle. He worked as a framer in high school, went to Weber State for undergrad to learn how to be an architectural drafter and designer, was hired as a designer for largest homebuilder in Utah, then completed his master’s research at Purdue in construction management. Now, he is passing along his passion to the next generation by mentoring his students.

“I was initially driven toward architecture, but this project reminded me of the joy that comes from physically creating something that was designed digitally,” said Ryan as he considers his future career plans. “Instead of focusing strictly on design or architecture, I am thinking of more opportunities that could have a meaningful impact and help push the practice of sustainable building.”

Thanks to a great mentor, we’re sure that all of the members of the Weber State Solar Decathlon 2020 Build team will go on to do amazing things in this field. After all, they all have unofficial degrees in Real Life Experience.

Design Challenge Weekend Will Be a Completely Virtual Event

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Due to the recent health concerns related to the coronavirus (COVID-19), Design Challenge Weekend (April 17–19) will be transitioned to a completely virtual event with a similar schedule. There will be no in-person activities at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory or the adjacent Denver West Marriott hotel.

The revised agenda for the virtual Design Challenge Weekend and an addendum to the Competition Rules outlining changes due to the virtual nature of the event have been posted.

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Announcing the Solar Decathlon 2020 Design Challenge Teams!

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Eighty-two teams from 55 collegiate institutions are participating in the next U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® Design Challenge! These teams are vying to be selected as one of the finalist teams that will present their projects at an expert-juried event April 17–19, 2020, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

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Two Weeks Left to Apply for the Solar Decathlon 2020 Design Challenge!

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Collegiate teams have only two more weeks to apply for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® 2020 Design Challenge. Solar Decathlon gives teams an opportunity to showcase their creativity, ingenuity, and passion for designing highly efficient and innovative buildings. Teams must apply by Tuesday, November 5, 2019, at 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. (more…)

One Month Remaining to Apply for the Solar Decathlon 2020 Design Challenge

Thursday, October 3, 2019

Collegiate teams can test their creativity, ingenuity, and passion for designing highly efficient and innovative buildings by participating in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® 2020 Design Challenge. Teams must apply by Tuesday, November 5, 2019, 5 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

 

Interested collegiate institutions can find detailed information on how to apply for the 2020 Design Challenge in the Solar Decathlon 2020 Competition Guide. 2020 Design Challenge teams that are selected as Finalist Teams will present their projects at an expert-juried event, April 17–19, 2020, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. (more…)

Apply to Compete in the 2020 Design Challenge Today!

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Ready to test your creativity, ingenuity, and passion for designing highly efficient and innovative buildings powered by renewable energy? The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® 2020 Design Challenge is ready for you!

With the release of the Solar Decathlon 2020 Competition Guide, interested collegiate institutions can find detailed information on how to apply for the 2020 Design Challenge. 2020 Design Challenge teams that are selected as Finalist Teams will present their projects at an expert-juried event, April 17–19, 2020, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

(more…)

Congratulations to the Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Challenge teams!

Monday, January 28, 2019

These collegiate institutions represent a mix of new and returning teams that have participated in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® in previous years. Below are the teams participating in the Build Challenge.

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Solar Decathlon Build Challenge Prize Amounts Announced

Thursday, November 1, 2018

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is excited to announce the prize amounts for the Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Challenge. Solar Decathlon Build Challenge teams work during a two-year period to design and build complete houses that incorporate state-of-the-art energy and building design practices and technologies. DOE will select up to 12 finalist teams across the Local Build and National Showcase Divisions. All finalist teams that meet Solar Decathlon Build Challenge requirements will receive prize funds to assist in defraying their costs. Funds will be provided at various points during the two-year period pending completion of specific deliverables and requirements.

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Apply Today! Solar Decathlon Application Deadline, November 6, 2018

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon continues to “push the envelope” on the design of the most high-performance, efficient, affordable, innovative buildings while leveraging opportunities to showcase student innovation and STEM education, as well as to foster workforce development opportunities.

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Guidance to Collegiate Institutions on Participating in the Build Challenge

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Participating as a team in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is an intense but rewarding endeavor. What makes the Solar Decathlon unique is the interdisciplinary nature of the competition, requiring student and faculty involvement from multiple disciplines and departments, and the real-life experience it provides to students, preparing them for jobs after graduation. At the same time, this requires a lot of support and cooperation from the collegiate institution.

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View this Week’s Webinar on the New Competition

Friday, August 24, 2018

If you missed this week’s webinar on the new U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon, you can view it on our website. The webinar, “Kick Start Your Solar Decathlon Competition!“, provided an overview of the competition.

DOE will host two more Solar Decathlon webinars, which will discuss competition requirements and answer questions.

Solar Decathlon Design Challenge
Date: September 12, 2018
Time: 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. ET

Solar Decathlon Build Challenge
Date: September 13, 2018
Time: 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. ET

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Solar Decathlon Competition Guide Released

Friday, August 10, 2018

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) is excited to release the Solar Decathlon 2019–2020 Competition Guide. This guide provides detailed information on competition rules and how to apply. The competition continues to “push the envelope” on the design of the most high-performance, efficient, affordable, innovative buildings while leveraging opportunities to showcase student innovation and STEM education, as well as to foster workforce development opportunities.

As previously announced, Solar Decathlon 2019–2020 will offer two tracks that build on the strengths of previous DOE student competitions: (1) an annual “Design Challenge” that is the new name for the former Race to Zero Student Design Competition, and (2) a “Build Challenge” that expands on the original Solar Decathlon. Teams in both tracks will present their projects at a single expert-juried event in April 2019. The expert jury will select winners of the Design Challenge and separately approve Build Challenge teams to move on to the construction phase. The Build Challenge teams will then go on to build and showcase their designs at public and industry events in 2020, where final Build Challenge winners will be announced. (more…)

Solar Decathlon National Student Competition

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

DOE is excited to announce the joining of its two student building design competitions, Solar Decathlon and Race to Zero, into one national Solar Decathlon competition.

The combined competition will feature two tracks. The first is a Design-only track (formerly Race to Zero) and the second is a Design/Build track. Each track challenges student teams to “push the envelope” and design the most high-performance, efficient, affordable, innovative buildings while leveraging opportunities to showcase student innovation and STEM education, and foster workforce development opportunities.

(more…)

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