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The Experience of a Lifetime

At the close of the 2013 Solar Decathlon in mid-October, the solar-powered homes that had been designed, built, and operated for two weeks at the international competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy were dismantled and Solar Village, a once-bustling enclave of energy and engineering innovation brought to life by an elite group of university teams was now a memory for the thousands of visitors who were delighted and inspired by the teams' creativity and ingenuity.

The Experience of a Lifetime
Photo: Charles Barry

The ultimate in project-based, hands-on learning, the Solar Decathlon tested the engineering prowess, business acumen, and interpersonal skills of our Santa Clara undergraduate team. They designed Radiant House with the needs of a retired couple in mind, incorporating innovative bamboo construction techniques, low maintenance building materials, and a user-friendly control system. Of the 10 contests within the competition, half are objective measurements of how efficiently the systems of the home handle tasks such as producing hot water and maintaining comfortable temperature and humidity levels. Among these measured contests, Santa Clara was first in the scoring. Unfortunately, in the subjective contests such as Affordability and Architecture, Radiant House did not fare as well, and the team suffered a fall from 1st place to 11th by the end of the event.

Still, this was never just about the contest scores. "The experience the students have garnered over the past two years—the sense of pride and strength—is one they will carry for a lifetime and we are so proud of them," said School of Engineering Dean Godfrey Mungal. Nicole Pal '14, assistant project leader summed up the team's unflagging optimism for a brighter energy future when she said, "It's not about the project; it's about changing the world—we got this!"