Every two years, the Department of Energy hosts the Solar Decathlon, inviting 20 colleges and universities from across the United States and the world to compete.
In October 2013, Santa Clara University will transport their completely solar-powered home, one that they will spend this entire year constructing on campus, to Orange County, California. It will be the third time that SCU will compete in the Solar Decathlon, and the team, comprised of mostly engineers, is ready to impress the judges and inspire the public with it’s entry, called Radiant House.
Radiant House will encompass the three E's, which the team notes as “efficiency, elegance, and economy,” and students are partnering with the University of San Francisco to integrate bamboo into their architectural design. Along with architecture, the collegiate teams will be judged in nine other contests, which range from engineering and comfort zone to market appeal.
Another important component of 2013’s competition is the inclusion of new affordability rules which deduct points for every dollar spent over 250k. “Cost plays a factor in every decision our team makes,” says team member Jay Dubashi, ‘14. The Santa Clara team believes that sustainable living can be affordable and that Radiant House will win the international competition in 2013.
Led by Project Manager Jake Gallau and about ten other team leaders who each manage their own portion of the project, these SCU students are ready to compete. SCU took a four-year break after winning 3rd place in both 2007 and 2009, but, according to Jay, “the four year gap was a good thing, it allowed a new crop of students to come in and get interested.”
Third time's a charm
In 2007, Santa Clara University was selected late for the competition. The Department of Energy asked SCU to fill in for a team that dropped out after six months. Throughout 2006 and 2007, “they pulled together a team quickly, rushing to get to the level of the other schools,” Jay says. Led by students from SCU’s School of Engineering, the team did well in the engineering contests, but took 18th in architecture, finishing 3rd overall with their “Ripple” house in Washington, D.C.
In 2009, SCU collaborated with California College of the Arts students to improve the architecture of their “Refract” house, and took 3rd overall again. In 2013, the competition will be held in Southern California, so bragging rights are even more at stake. Stanford, the University of Southern California, and CalTech are also competing this year.
In the past, some doubted SCU's Solar Decathlon team for its inexperience, but they didn't let that stop them. According to Jay, “In 2007, Santa Clara University was the little school many people expected to place in the bottom five. We shocked many other teams, other teams with far more experienced students and greater funding. Who would pick SCU engineering in a contest against MIT and Carnegie Mellon? But we beat them in 2007 and 2009, and we plan to beat Stanford and USC in 2013."
The Santa Clara Advantage
Jay believes SCU has an advantage in the competition because engineering students at some other universities do nothing but hard math and science from day one. “At SCU, we learn more than this. We learn how to communicate, how to write, and how to think ethically.” The Santa Clara philosophy gives the team an advantage in the Solar Decathlon competition. The team must consider everything from the target audience to the power that needs to be generated through their architectural designs and the integration of their engineering concepts and technologies.
Some houses built in this competition serve as inspiration for the future of mobile disaster relief housing, and in 2013, affordability will be key.
What the team needs from you
You can help the SCU Solar Decathlon team by spreading the word. “Many people don't know that Santa Clara University is participating in the Solar Decathlon, or even what it is. Letting people know that we're working on this is the best way to drum up interest in the team,” Jay says.
The Solar Decathlon is one of the biggest and broadest engineering projects available to students, with undergraduates like Jay Dubashi, a junior Mechanical Engineering major with a minor in Economics, participating. Jay volunteered on the construction of the 2009 Solar Decathlon house, and he’s excited to work on this year's house, which has made him more interested in renewable energy and sustainable development.
Students like Jay are getting involved with Radiant House, and it’s not too late for you to get involved, either. Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org to contact a team member, or sign up for the Solar Decathlon class (MECH 80 or MECH 180). Check out the SCU Solar Decathlon team's website for updates about the team throughout the year.
By Michelle Tang, '13 Sustainability Intern -- Student Initiatives