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Reprinted from the Colorado Daily

CU Team Brings Energy to Competition
By Fred Baerkircher
December 11, 2001

While memories of this summer’s energy crunches are still fresh in most people’s minds, a team of CU students is working on a project that could make such fears a thing of the past.

On Wednesday, CU’s "Solar Decathlon" team will unveil its design of a model solar home. That home is intended to generate enough energy, while maximizing its efficiency, to meet daily household energy needs without using outside power sources.

"The idea of the competition is to design, build and operate a small home-office building powered only by the solar energy that falls on it, " explained Michael Brandemuehl, a CU professor who teaches architectural engineering and acts as a faculty advisor for the student team.

Teams will construct their entries on the national mall in Washington, D.C. for a one-week period in October.

The unveiling of the CU team’s design will take place at the Henderson Museum on Broadway near 15th Street. At the ceremony, the team will present its ideas at a reception with Rep. Mark Udall’s congressional assistant Paul Farnan, and Richard King, a program manager with the U.S. Department of Energy. The model used in the unveiling will be 1/2-inch scale, meaning that 1/2-inch represents one foot. The house used in the competition will be a full-size 650 square-foot home.

The Solar Decathlon will pit teams from 14 universities against each other in a series of 10 contests ranging from overall design to livability.

"A significant portion of the points total is awarded for integrated systems," said Brandemuehl, "so it’s not just a hodgepodge of highly efficient equipment."

To that end, Brandemuehl said, engineering students and architecture students worked closely together. He added that students from the School of Journalism and Mass Communication are also playing a role in the project. One of the contests, he said, is in the public awareness generated by the house. He added that the public-relations campaign launched by the journalism students is also beneficial to fundraising efforts for the project.

"It’s going to cost a fair amount of money to put this together," said Richard Epstein, an advisor for the architectural portion of the contest. "We’re really trying not to take the notion of "house" for granted here. We’re really trying to rethink it."

Epstein said the design incorporates some expensive equipment, such as high-quality photovoltaic panels. "We’re using a lot of cutting-edge or really experimental technologies," he said.

Other materials the team will use include recycled-plastic decking, wall material also made from recycled plastic, and bamboo flooring. All of these materials are already commercially available, Epstein said. He added that the plastic decking material is rapidly gaining in popularity. "It doesn’t get as beat-up as wood does," he said, "especially in this climate."

Other schools involved in the competition include Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Virginia, the University of Texas and the University of Maryland. "There’s certainly some strong competition here," said Brandemuehl.

He said the logistics involved in getting the house to Washington add to the competition. "That’s an interesting challenge posed to us here," Brandemuehl said. "I don’t think it poses a dominating challenge to us. We’ll deal with it."

He added that once the team reaches Washington, it has only about three days to construct the house on the mall. When the competition is finished, the house will be brought back to Boulder.

"It will certainly be brought back," he said, "because in many ways, the greatest benefit of this competition comes from the educational impact."