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Solar Decathlon 2015
Orange County Great Park, Irvine, California
October 8-18, 2015

Solar Decathlon Blog - Contests

Below you will find Solar Decathlon news from the Contests archive, sorted by date.

West Virginia/Rome Team Merges Classical and Southern STILE

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

By Ernie Tucker

The aroma of Italian cooking will waft from STILE, the West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata entry in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015, during the team’s dinner parties. Those meals will showcase the Italian influence on this partnership between West Virginian and Italian cultures.

“I feel bad for whoever has to pick which dish to serve,” laughs Sharrafti Kuzmar, a junior studying electrical engineering who was also on West Virginia University’s Solar Decathlon 2013 team. “When we went to Rome last summer, the food was so amazing.”

Photo of a group of people talking.

Sharrafti Kuzmar, center, shares a light moment with teammates and Solar Decathlon Director Richard King (left) while visiting the West Virginia/Rome team lot at the Orange County Great Park competition site on Friday, Jan. 9. (Credit: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

STILE (the Italian spelling of “style”) stands for Sustainable Technologies Integrated in a Learning Experience and draws upon Appalachian roots and centuries-old Roman tradition. That, Kuzmar believes, makes the house unique.

The Solar Decathlon 2015 team has designed a compact house that will bring Roman culture to West Virginia. The house is covered by an elegant, classically inspired arch that runs north to south to support solar panels and create a natural patio that will provide passive cooling.

Computer-generated image of a modern-looking house.

STILE, the house being designed by the West Virginia/Rome team, blends Italian and West Virginian influences. (Courtesy of the West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata Solar Decathlon 2015 team)

To formulate project plans, the team has had to overcome obstacles—an effort that has helped unify the group. Something as simple as organizing team meetings requires careful coordination to bridge the six-hour time difference.

“We worked it out so that our meetings aren’t too late there or too early here,” says Kuzmar, a Morgantown, West Virginia, native.

To further team bonds, some members from West Virginia University traveled to Rome last summer to work directly on the project with their Italian teammates.

“That was a new experience for all of us,” Kuzmar says.

Photo of a group of young people.

Members of the Solar Decathlon 2015 West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata team gathered at the Orange County Great Park on Jan. 9 as part of activities associated with the Design Development Review Workshop. (Credit: Carol Laurie/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

In addition, two Roman decathletes are currently studying at West Virginia University. Stefania Rossi is one of them.

“It is a very interesting experience working with both universities,” Rossi says.

The double-engineering major says that forging the two visions into one unified project “has been a good challenge.” As a result, she believes the house is the best of both worlds—a hybrid of old and new.

While in Morgantown, the Italian decathletes can experience West Virginia’s more rustic style and the 19th-century influences that shaped the STILE project. They can also see PEAK, West Virginia University’s Solar Decathlon 2013 house, in its permanent home at the West Virginia Botanic Garden.

The experience of building PEAK, an acronym for “Preserving Energy with Appalachian Knowledge,” has helped smooth the current process.

“Last time, we had trouble with plumbing,” Kuzmar says. “Now, we have a better understanding of the competition, thanks to things that came up unexpectedly in 2013.”

In addition to house design, the two universities are collaborating closely on the logistics of transporting STILE. “We’re figuring out how to break the house down at the same time we’re putting it up,” Kuzmar says.

The team credits its mentors, including principal investigator Dimitris Korakakis and experts in Rome, with helping the students gain practical experience and problem-solving skills—skills that Kuzmar, Rossi, and others hope to use in future careers in green building and clean tech.

As they ready for the first assembly of the house this summer, the team is also looking ahead to other aspects of the competition. One Italian student, who happens to be writing a cookbook, is eager to plan the menus for the team’s competition dinner parties, part of the Home Life Contest.

Kuzmar, who has already declared her awe of Italian cuisine, says simply, “I love the Italians.” Those mutual bonds are what give this project its zesty international flavor.

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.



Blaise Stoltenberg: A Shining Light for the Solar Decathlon

Monday, December 22, 2014

By Ernie Tucker

Blaise Stoltenberg, a U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon organizer, developed his vision for a clean energy future as a Solar Decathlon 2002 decathlete. He was a leader of the University of Colorado’s winning 2002 team and, in recent years, served as a coordinator for Solar Decathlon engineering juries. He did it all with a kind and giving spirit that inspired colleagues and friends.

That same spirit was tested for many months as Blaise battled myelodysplasia, or MDS, a bone marrow disease. On Dec. 16, he passed away at his Golden, Colorado, residence.

A Native of Sunny California Embraces Solar Research

A native of California, Blaise graduated in 1985 from Stanford University with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in a combined program with Claremont McKenna College. After gaining some professional experience, Blaise enrolled in a master’s degree program at the University of Colorado (CU) at Boulder, where he was drawn to the fledgling Solar Decathlon concept.

Photo of a group of men standing around a woman who is holding a large trophy.

Blaise Stoltenberg participated on the University of Colorado Solar Decathlon 2002 team, which took first place in the competition. In this photo, Blaise (second from left) celebrates with teammates. (Credit: Warren Gretz /NREL)

“Blaise was there at the start,” said CU professor Michael Brandemuehl, who recognized Blaise’s unique talents as they collaborated on the inaugural Solar Decathlon. Blaise was a leader of the original seven students on CU’s solar house project and headed up the mechanical systems team that earned first place in the Comfort Zone Contest.

Mike Wassmer, a 2002 teammate and former Solar Decathlon competition manager, recalled that the group referred to him as “Papa Blaise” because he was a mentor and “more mature than most of us.” Added Wassmer, “Whenever I got frustrated with the energy modeling (my main responsibility), he always spent time with me to help me get back on track.”

A Solar Decathlon Pioneer

Blaise’s Solar Decathlon pioneering efforts paved the way for other CU students to become decathletes, Brandemuehl said.

Following some years of engineering work in the private sector, Blaise joined the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in 2009 and became a key member of the Solar Decathlon organizer team.

Photo of four men standing in a row and smiling at the camera.

Blaise Stoltenberg (right) coordinated the Engineering Contest Jury for several Solar Decathlons. He is shown here with the 2011 Engineering Contest jurors. (Credit: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

“Blaise helped in many ways. He was our engineering jury coordinator for several events—helping to select, guide, and support our juries both in advance of and on site at the Solar Decathlon to ensure that the teams were judged fairly and effectively,” said Solar Decathlon Competition Manager Joe Simon. “He also served as our go-to person for analysis whenever abnormal scoring or data-collection situations arose during the real-time competition.”

If, for example, a sensor didn’t collect information or a utility-grid power spike caused a dehumidifier to turn off overnight, Blaise used his acute analytical skills to determine a fair and equitable adjustment to scores and measurement data.

“He was always eager to lend a helping hand to our on-site observer or perform rules inspections. No matter the task, Blaise was happy to help,” Simon noted.

A devoted husband and father of two, Blaise cited his newborn son in the dedication to his 2003 master’s thesis, writing, “I hope that, in some way, this work will help make his future brighter.”

Even as he battled the disease, Blaise remained upbeat about his job and the future of solar energy. Through his work with Solar Decathlons and his efforts in the renewable energy field, Blaise Stoltenberg has indeed helped make the future brighter for generations to come.

Ernie Tucker is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.



Solar Decathlon 2015 Team Websites Provide New Insight

Thursday, September 18, 2014

By Carol Laurie

If you’re ready for another glimpse into what the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 teams are up to, check out our updated 2015 team pages. They now include links to the teams’ own websites!

As part of the Communications Contest, teams create websites to share information about their projects and their progress. Over the next year, the teams will continue to expand their websites and social media presence. At the start of the competition in October 2015, Communications Contest jurors will evaluate the websites for effectiveness, ease of use, compliance with U.S. government standards, and other attributes.

Photo of a woman standing in front of signage and talking to a group of people who are holding clipboards.

Gwen Cook of Middlebury College gives Communications Contest jurors a house tour during Solar Decathlon 2013. The Communications Contest challenges teams to educate others about their houses, their experiences, and their projects. (Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

In addition to team electronic communications, the Communications Contest jurors review public exhibit materials and presentation, an audiovisual presentation, and overall communications strategy. They award points for quality, creativity, delivery, and innovation.

Stay tuned for more from the Solar Decathlon teams. In January 2015, we’ll post computer-animated walkthroughs and renderings of the team houses. In the meantime, learn all about the current plans and design concepts on the team websites.

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.



Technology Spotlight: Energy-Recovery Ventilation Systems

Monday, August 18, 2014

By Alexis Powers and Carol Laurie

Editor’s Note: This post is one of a series of technology spotlights that introduces common technologies used in U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon team houses.

Good ventilation is vital for maintaining healthy indoor air quality. Houses built to modern energy efficiency standards, such as U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition houses, are tightly constructed to allow very little outside air to leak in. As a result, odors, chemicals, particles, and humidity can become trapped, increasing indoor air pollution.

Energy-recovery ventilation systems provide tightly constructed houses with fresh air while minimizing energy loss. These systems rely on heat exchangers to efficiently transfer heat between indoor and outdoor air supplies. There are two types of energy-recovery ventilation systems: heat-recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy-recovery (or enthalpy-recovery) ventilators (ERVs). An HRV uses fans to pull fresh air into a house while simultaneously exhausting stale air. In the winter, the heat exchanger transfers heat energy from the warmer outgoing air to the cooler incoming air to reduce the need for heating. In the summer, the system reduces the need to cool incoming fresh air by sending the cooler exhaust air past the warm intake stream. An ERV goes one step further by controlling indoor humidity as well as temperature. An ERV transfers water vapor along with heat energy to keep the interior humidity constant.

These ventilation systems can recover 70%–80% of the energy from a house’s outgoing air supply to help maintain a comfortable indoor environment.

Photo of a box-shaped energy recovery ventilator inside a mechanical closet.

Team Ontario used this energy recovery ventilator in its “ECHO” house. Energy recovery ventilation systems help maintain a comfortable indoor environment by recovering 70%–80% of the energy from the outgoing air supply. Credit: Carol Laurie, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Several Solar Decathlon 2013 teams incorporated energy recovery ventilation technologies into their competition houses. Norwich University provided continuous ventilation of its “Delta T-90” house by using a multiunit HRV system that was 92% efficient, ductless, and whisper-quiet. Team Ontario (Queen’s University, Carleton University, and Algonquin College), which received first place in the Solar Decathlon 2013 Engineering Contest, used an ERV in its “ECHO” house to dramatically reduce the energy needed to condition indoor air.

Photo of the exterior of a modern house.

Norwich University used a multiunit HRV system that provided continuous ventilation in its Solar Decathlon 2013 “Delta T-90” house. Credit: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Visit the Energy Savers website to learn more about energy-efficient ventilation systems.

Alexis Powers and Carol Laurie are members of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.




What Makes a House a Home?

Thursday, August 14, 2014

By Carol Laurie

A house is just a building until people live in it. Then it becomes a home.

Although U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon houses are not lived in during competition, Solar Decathlon visitors may ask themselves whether they could be comfortable homes when stepping through their thresholds.

Could I live here?

From a competition standpoint, this question is answered through the Home Life Contest, which measures how well each house accommodates comfortable living—including aspects such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching movies, and using a computer. The Home Life Contest also simulates taking a warm shower and spending time in a well-lighted space.

Photo of a man wearing a chef’s hat cooking at a stove, with people sitting at a table in the background.

Decathletes from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas host a meal for student dinner party guests during the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. Dinner parties are part of the Home Life Contest, which helps teams get to know one another while demonstrating how comfortable the competition houses might be to live in. Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

For this contest, teams receive points for:

  • Hosting two dinner parties for neighboring teams
  • Hosting a movie night for neighboring teams
  • Turning on all interior and exterior house lights during specified time periods
  • Operating a television and computer during specified time periods
  • Producing 15 gallons (56.8 L) of hot water (110°F/43.3°C) from the shower in 10 minutes or less several times during the competition.

Teams plan their dinner party menus in advance, and each menu must feature food and beverages prepared in the house. (See the 2013 University of Las Vegas team’s menu for an example.) For the movie night, guests from neighboring teams watch a movie with the host team on its home theater system. Together, the dinner parties and movie night evaluate the functionality of each house while simultaneously providing an opportunity for competing students to get to know one another.

Completing these tasks brings teams together and provides an indication of whether each Solar Decathlon house could be considered a home.

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.






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