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Reprinted from the Boulder Daily Camera

Solar Design Competition Heats Up
By Katy Human
December 12, 2001

At 2 p.m. Wednesday, 10 University of Colorado architecture students, dressed in jeans and bleary eyed from lack of sleep, put the finishing touches on their final project of the semester. A small solar house for the national competition next year.

Two hours later, they were nearly unrecognizable, sporting ties and dresses. Fatigue was replaced with enthusiasm as they explained their concept to the public.

The CU "Solar Decathlon" team unveiled its preliminary design Wednesday afternoon, to more than 200 people crowded into the dinosaur room of the CU museum.

Thirty-one students from CU’s architecture and engineering schools have collaborated this semester to create the initial design for a small home that is energy-efficient and still "delights the senses" in the words of Richard King. King, who works for the Department of Energy came up with the decathlon, the nation’s first solar home contest, as a way to increase national interest and expertise in smart living.

Next October, 14 teams of students from Boulder to Puerto Rico will build compact solar-powered homes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., submitting their creations to the scrutiny of experts and tourists.

Judges will evaluate the creations in 10 categories, from energy production to aesthesis.

The latest CU design is a compact building with a kitchen and open living room in the center, flanked b y a bedroom and home office on either side. Solar panels for hot water and electricity blanket a nearly flat, wide roof.

The architecture students said this semester’s experience has been unique. In studio classes, they often build dream structures, without pondering energy efficiency or construction methods. "But this actually has to work," Lisa Pearson said. "We’re going to build it."

For the decathlon, students have just 800 square feet to play with. Their home must generate enough energy to power an electric car, a dishwasher, heating and cooling systems and other necessities, all in the fickle climate of Washington, D.C., in the autumn.

The level of detail in the team’s initial plan is extraordinary. Students have had to decide where to have the modular parts of the home built, and how to get them to the East Coast. They know they need five trucks for various parts of the home, and they know how they’ll unload those pieces.

But it’s still a work in progress, they all admitted. The team will refine its design in classes and meeting next semester.

"There are probably very few people in our group that think the building is perfect," said engineering student Adam Jackaway, a member of the Decathlon team. But that might be true for any project involving 31 "cooks," he said.

Mike Brandemuehl, the engineering professor leading the CU decathlon team, and Richard Epstein, who taught this semester’s architecture course, praised the students’ work. In the last three months, students have incorporated elements of 11 initial designs into a single plan. In terms of energy use, the house performs well, Brandemuehl said, but it may need to perform better. "At this point, we estimate we’re generating 20 to 30 percent more energy than we consume, annually," he said. "But for the contest period, we’re right on the edge."

A week of rain or miserably hot temperatures in early October could put the house out of the running.

The DOE’s King attended Wednesday’s event, a fund-raiser as well as public demonstration, as did many solar energy experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. CU’s team estimates it needs $400,000 to support its research, design, and construction work.