Santa Clara University’s Solar Decathlon team is a lot like the bamboo they often work with: just when you think they’re gone, they come back in full force.
Since its commencement in 2002, the biennial U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon has become an internationally recognized competition that challenges 20 universities and colleges from around the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. Teams have to win a spot to participate through a proposal process that filters the playing field to the 20 top competitors.
SCU won third place two consecutive times in 2007 and in 2009. The University chose to opt out of the 2011 competition, but SCU students still traveled to Washington, D.C., to observe what the 2011 teams have created. Their eyes are set on 2013, which kicks off with a proposal deadline of Nov. 10.
Engineering students Gyllermo Gallardo ’13, Jake Gallau ’13, Dane Kornasiewicz ’13, Kendra Lane ’14, Teddy Tortorici ’14, and Jay Dubashi ’15 represent the makings of SCU’s intrepid 2013 Solar Decathlon team, however, they are by no means going to tackle the project alone. Several additional students who were unavailable for this interview are expected to join the team, many of whom were enrolled in the Solar Home Design and Analysis class last spring. In this class, students began the early planning process for the 2013 solar-powered house.
Experience gained from this class seems to be providing the group with extra motivation. Whether they’re focusing on using bamboo as structural support or sending a research team to Shanghai to explore different solar panels, this 2013 squad seems to be pulling all the stops in their quest to build a frontrunner home.
Success will also require adaptability, as the decathlon is constantly changing.
“When it first started, the competition was almost completely an engineering one. Now it has become more about sustainability,” said Gallau. “It has become more general about design and power, and has focused more on architecture than engineering. That’s going to be tough since we aren’t an architecture school.”
To tackle this issue, the team looks to bring in students from the art department, who can focus more on the architectural side to building a sustainable home as opposed to the engineering aspects. Doing so can only help, especially considering that this time, SCU stands alone. In 2009, the school created Team California by joining forces with California College of the Arts.
The team’s focus also differs from previous years.
“The whole process is really a linear progression. The first house, Ripple, was about education. The second, Refract, was about livability, luxury, and design,” Tortorici said. “Now, the third house should be about affordability and accessibility. It should be so that everybody across the middle class can afford it. It’s about balance, simplicity, and form.”
To promote affordability, the decathlon team aims to cap their spending at $300,000. Upcoming contest rules state that teams who spend less than $250,000 get a full 100 points in the affordability category. However, teams still get 90 points for spending below $350,000. This proves to be a more realistic and balanced goal, considering that Team California spent between $450,000–$650,000 in 2009, an overall competition average.
While remaining realistic and balanced, the decathlon team possesses a strong desire to shock their opponents that stems from SCU’s 2007 Cinderella team. Santa Clara’s first decathlon team surprised their opponents when they placed third after a late start in the competition. Originally, the squad was denied one of the 20 competing spots and could only participate after another team had withdrawn. In 2009, SCU repeated its third place feat, destroying any notions of beginner’s luck and showing the competition SCU was there to stay. So what about 2013?
“We’ve been so close the last couple of years, we really want to win,” said Kornasiewicz. “I think we can do it. I think we can win.”
As the saying goes, third times a charm.