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Reprinted from the Boulder Daily Camera

Solar Contest Winner to be Announced Today
Scripps Howard News Service
October 5, 2002

CU Team leads going into final day of solar-home contest — Ten months of frantic work, dozens of environmentally friendly materials and many prayers for sunshine, and it all comes down to 45.5 points. The University of Colorado’s Solar Decathlon team clung to that slim lead Friday in the Department of Energy’s first solar home competition on the National Mall.

Their score of 861.9 points put them slightly ahead of Auburn University going into the final day of competition, with the winner being announced in a brief ceremony today. "We’re very confident," said Mike Wassmer, CU’s solar thermal specialist. "If we lose, it’s because something catastrophic happened or we really did something stupid."

But since the competition opened last weekend, few things have gone wrong for the Buffs. They took an early lead Monday afternoon and haven’t looked back. CU has scored among the top five schools in nine of the 10 categories for design and energy efficiency and placed first in three categories. Their only finish out of the top five came in refrigeration because six other teams used more efficient units.

But Wassmer said it was by no means a done deal. Their lead reached 90 points at one point Thursday night but had shrunk to less than 40 by Friday morning. Scoring official Sheila Hayter from the National Renewable Energy laboratory in Golden said judges gave high marks to Boulder because the home’s design and engineering systems are so well intertwined. CU also has been the most efficient team at generating more electricity than it has used.

But Wassmer has a simpler theory for why they’re scoring so well with the judges. "They like, first of all, that our systems all work. A few schools aren’t working right now." Texas A&M University, for instance, fell about 750 points behind, scoring just 86.14 points as of Friday because the team never finished the electrical system and didn’t even bring some the required appliances.

"I think they just weren’t prepared," said George Douglas, who also trekked to Washington, D.C., from the renewable energy laboratory as an Energy Department liaison.

The competition at the top of the standings has been a different story. The Auburn team spent much of Friday morning in "strategic planning meetings." On an overcast, muggy afternoon, Auburn opted to close up its house, draw the shades and keep the temperature inside cool, which is one of the scoring categories. CU, on the other hand, decided to open up the house to the public and shut off its temperature to save energy because energy balance — the amount of power generated by the solar panels minus the energy used in the house — also is a category.

"Energy balance and temperature is a trade-off," said Wesley Driver, an Auburn team member. "If we want to save our power the heat and humidity seep in. We’d love to have people come in, but with this humidity and heat, we just can’t afford those points."

Matthew Henry, CU’s lead architectural design team member, said it was more important to the team to let the public in as often as possible. "It’s our belief that we built this for the public and the people, not to take back a plastic trophy," he said.