Solar Decathlon Blog
Monday, Sep. 30, 2013
With the Solar Decathlon set to open its doors to the public on Wednesday, our Decathletes worked feverishly all weekend to ready Radiant House (RH) for visitors, and they have definitely had their ups and downs. They passed a huge milestone Friday when they were tied to the grid, allowing them to both use and generate power through the house, but that triumph came after a bit of a disappointment. The team's request for connectivity was received by officials one minute too early (the atomic clock being used by the students was a bit ahead of that being used by the organizers), so SCU was put at the end of the line, behind other requestors. Not a big deal, though; the Broncos were one of just a few teams ready to go, so they were soon up and running and are now "making power quite nicely, producing nearly 44kWh each of the past two days," according to Dr. Hight. Good news: that's about twice the amount of power the team anticipates needing to run the house during competition.
Meanwhile, the controls team found a glitch in the communication between the mobile app and the house computers (to control lights, talk to mobile devices, monitor various readings, etc.), and the ramps continue to cause some challenges for the team, as well. Some pieces that were fabricated by an outside company were not made according to the team's drawings—resulting in the slope not meeting ADA guidelines. But our team is used to solving problems as they go along; it's just what they do.
Take, for instance, the question of how best to display the native plants being used to landscape the house. Experience paid off as team advisors quickly nixed the idea of using 1000+ cu. ft. of mulch in favor of a less impactful display. (Dr. Hight said he had some "nasty flashbacks" of the days' worth of work it took to clear the copious amounts of gravel from the reflecting pool in SCU's 2009 Decathlon entry.)
With the construction phase of the Solar Decathlon rapidly coming to a close, the pressure is on to get the myriad details completed and pass the final inspection by Tuesday at noon. Help cheer them on: post your best wishes on the team's Facebook page.
Friday, Sep. 27, 2013
Following the dramatic impact of the first two days of construction that saw Radiant House rising from the tarmac on Solar Way, Days 3 and 4 also brought great results, but with less to show for all the hard work that is being done. Still, Dr. Hight reports that "tremendous progress has been made!" The decking continues toward completion, the south side awning is installed and providing nice shade, and the team is just waiting for contest officials to give the go-ahead so they can hook up to the grid. Nice work!
The best news, though, is that as of yesterday SCU had passed more inspections than any other team—we are #1! (...for now, at least.) Not too surprising, really; all that hands-on, project-based learning comes in handy when it's crunch time.
An example of our Broncos being able to put theory into action and use their noggins—Dr. Hight relays this story: Joe Soares '14 and Mike Holligan '14, team leads on HVAC and plumbing, wanted to check that the fire sprinkler system was working without leaks (several connections cross between the roof section and the home's three other modules). They estimated they would need up to 300 gallons of water in the supply tank to raise the water level high enough to operate the pump. The problem: water wasn't due to be delivered for several days. Serious brainstorming ensued with a number of options considered and discarded until they devised a brilliant solution...fit a pipe to the inside of the supply tank at the exit point so the water would go directly to the pump line. A quick trip to Home Depot...some fun time inside the tank...and, voila!...they were able to test the fire system with under 10 gallons of water. Now, that's sustainability and Bronco engineering in action!
Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013
Dr. Hight reports that Tuesday was another very busy and productive day, focusing mostly on maneuvering each section of the huge, wrap-around deck into place with a reach-forklift and SCU’s customized rigging system. The deck is a key feature of Radiant House—made of sustainable bamboo, it provides the seamless indoor/outdoor extended living area that has distinguished Santa Clara's 2007 Ripple House and 2009 Refract House. People love our decks, and this one will be a stunner!
Meanwhile, work continued on the interior with electrical connections between the home's modules reestablished and preparations for connecting to the grid being made. Drywall, floor molding, and other touch up work was done to erase any signs that just yesterday Radiant House was transported to the site in four separate pieces.
Morale is high, thanks in part to one team member’s mother who has been bringing wonderful lunches and dinners to the work site. “Great food, and a much reduced interruption to the house progress,” says Hight, who also notes that a walk through the Solar Village last night revealed that while “several more houses are taking shape, surprisingly, several lots look like the teams have barely started.” Not our Broncos; they are well on their way!
SCU is featured in Decathlon Director Richard King's account of the first day of construction. Read it here.
Tuesday, Sep. 24, 2013
Yesterday the team hit the ground running. Up at 5:30 a.m., they were ready to go when the gates to The Great Park opened at 7 allowing the Solar Decathletes in to begin installing their solar-powered homes. But, really, their preparations for this moment began in earnest last week here on campus as Professor Hight led the team through a step-by-step rundown of the installation process. Every detail was considered--what would need to be done in what order, what tools would be needed, how those tools would be organized, who was working on each aspect of the installation...and the list went on.
This is where experience really pays off, and SCU's past forays into the competition (3rd Place finishes in both 2007 and 2009—we took 2011 off to concentrate on our School of Engineering Centennial) gave the Radiant House team, led by veteran faculty advisors Tim Hight and Fr. Jim Reites, the kind of insider know-how other teams could only dream of. Plus, this team of undergraduate students has been working on every inch of their house from the very beginning. They are not coming into this cold--this is their project, their home, their honor at stake, and they are off to a great start.
Fr. Reites reports: "We have been the envy of Decathlete Way! First day, we had the modules together by 4 p.m. We have almost totally offloaded the deck trailer and the deck will begin to go in today. The inter-module data connections are done; the hydronic connections, done; the domestic water, done; the appliances' installation, done! It was a good 'done' day!"
Monday, Sep. 23, 2013
This morning, 20 teams of Solar Decathletes are moving their houses into The Great Park in Irvine, California, to prepare for the international competition that begins October 3. (More on the Solar Decathlon here.) Professor and Team Project Manager Tim Hight reports that while some teams' homes were held up in Arizona over the weekend due to a ban on driving large loads through the state on Sunday, SCU's Radiant House was in Southern California and ready to go well in advance.
That doesn't mean there haven't been a couple of hiccups, though. One of the truck drivers delivering the house "got a little too aggressive" and ran into a walk/don't walk sign at the entrance to the park. One of the home's modules was slightly damaged, but the team was prepared with extra siding panels so they will be able to make a quick fix as they reassemble the house. Someone also stepped on faculty advisor Fr. Jim Reites' glasses, so a quick trip to an optometrist was made to get them temporarily glued back together.
And, so, the fun begins! Keep watching this blog for regular updates on SCU's progress and check out the team's Facebook page. Go Broncos!
Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012
For the SCU 2013 Solar Decathlon team, the challenge of building a solar house is testing more than just design and engineering skills. The U.S. Department of Energy’s competition is putting the students in many roles they have never explored.
Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012
SCU is proud to be participating in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon for the third time, following 3rd Place finishes in both 2007 and 2009. Meet the new team here.
Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2009
Read an article for CNN by Preet Anand, SCU '10, about his experience with the Solar Decathlon.
Friday, Oct. 16, 2009
In a nail-biter of a finish, SCU+CCA Team California took 3rd Place in the 2009 Solar Decathlon! It all came down to performance in the engineering and net metering contests. The teams waited nervously as the engineering contest winners were announced. The second place team was commended for their "close collaboration between engineers and architects;" that's when we knew it was us and that we now had a good chance to place in the top three overall.
Richard King, Director of the Solar Decathlon, said they intentionally kept the net metering results a secret to build some drama--and they sure did! But when we heard that the 3rd place team overall had thought "outside the box," our hopes soared and our pulses raced until we heard "Team California" announced!
To come in 3rd Place in this international competition between "20 gems of different hues" is an amazing accomplishment for our students, our faculty, and our institution. With a great whoop, our team yelled out, "Dance party at Refract House!" It was a wonderful sight to see the team laughing and dancing in a joyful display of camaraderie and celebration!
Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009
It is cold and rainy in D.C. – not ideal conditions for generating solar power! The team is a little downhearted this morning watching our lead slip as homes with more PV are adding up points at a faster pace under these cloudy conditions. Prof. Tim Hight reports, “Realistically, given the weather conditions, it will be very difficult to maintain our lead, but we will keep fighting. It will be tough to overcome Germany’s advantage in power.” (Germany’s house is covered in PV, so it is able to maximize its capability to capture energy.) But then Dr. Hight adds with a shrug, “Stranger things have happened!” Kadee Mardula, SCU ’11, notes, “Our position all along has been that sustainability and ‘green’ living doesn’t have to involve compromise or sacrifice, so we designed Refract House to be energy efficient, but also beautiful and very livable.” It’s true; walking past all the homes on the National Mall yesterday, the Dean of Engineering Godfrey Mungal and I were blown away with how stunning Refract House is—photos and videos don’t do it justice!
Yesterday, the team spent the day sharing their message with Representatives from Congress Mike Honda, Zoe Lofgren, and Sam Farr (Monterey), and Senators Boxer and Feinstein. While a few of the students and faculty members had a great meeting with Sen. Feinstein, the others rode in a little underground train traveling between the Senate Office Building and the Capitol for a photo with Sen. Boxer in the President’s Room. Years ago, this elegant room was used for signing treaties—it was a privilege to be afforded this rare visit. The team also enjoyed a tour of the Capitol. While waiting for the tour to begin, Preet Anand (SCU ’10) conducted a live radio interview via cell phone—our students are ready at any moment to spread the word! The Capitol tour included a short film about Congress, and I was struck by these words: “Answers in America come from not one voice, but many.” Isn’t that what the Solar Decathlon is all about? Our SCU students and faculty have joined their voices with those from California College of the Arts to form a partnership that has transformed both engineers and architects. As a team, they have joined their voices with those from 19 other colleges and universities gathered in Washington for this competition with the goal of changing how the world views and uses energy. Tomorrow, the final results will be announced and 20 teams will come away winners.