December 5, 2003

Solar Team to Compete

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Cornell students have formed a team to enter into the 2005 Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C.

The competition is designed to “push the limits of sustainable energy,” according to the press release, and the goal is to “research, design and build a solar-powered, energy-efficient home with all of the amenities needed to sustain a typical household.” In the fall of 2005, each participating team will assemble its system on the National Mall for a week of public tours and evaluated contests.

International schools are represented, including teams from Spain and Canada. The Cornell University Solar Decathlon team marks the University’s first participation in the event.

“We are also the only school from New York State,” said Angela Carter grad, co-leader of the PR-Business subteam.

Last spring, Cornell was selected to compete against 19 other universities in this international event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The CUSD team is composed of over 70 students from all academic levels and disciplines, representing at least 7 different programs at Cornell ranging from mechanical engineering and architecture to government and computer science.

“The team was formed by a group of very dedicated and enthusiastic students, mostly undergraduate engineers and architects,” Carter said. “[They] submitted a proposal to the competition organizers last spring and were accepted to compete along with [the] other schools. In the fall the group advertised the project, gathered interested students from across Cornell, interviewed for approximately 70 positions and created the official CUSD team.”

The team is currently performing extensive research. Rather than committing to one design or technology right now, nine subteams are exploring their options and are “being as creative as possible,” Carter said.

The subteams include researching materials, appliances, controls, energy production and storage, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, architectural planning and site design. CUSD will be documenting every step of the project online in the coming months. A design should be ready after next semester. All team members will be reviewing the potential designs.

Stephanie T. Horowitz, a fourth-year architecture student and one of the CUSD team leaders, said that this project is “a great opportunity for students to gain practical experience while advancing research in the field and educating the community.”

The press release expresses the team’s hope that Cornell’s participation in the event will promote awareness of energy-efficient innovations with the aim to facilitate the technical, political and cultural transition to environmental sustainability and renewable energy. The team is looking forward to “joining with local citizens, schools and businesses to spread the word on clean energy and ‘green’ design throughout the community.”

The CUSD team’s solar-powered living system will “exceed the expectations of the Solar Decathlon Competition,” Carter said. “It will employ the pinnacle of evolving technology to maximize the social and environmental impact toward our sustainable goals and create a symbiotic relationship between the comfort, beauty, logic and educational value inherent in every detail.”

“The house will be 800 square feet and will contain all the modern living amenities, [such as a] kitchen, workroom, bathroom and so forth, including, of course, all major appliances tweaked to be as energy-efficient as possible,” Carter added.

A major issue is how to make solar-powered houses economically feasible.

“Financial feasibility is in our team’s mission statement. The fifth point of our team goals [is] to accomplish all of this while simultaneously achieving financial feasibility by keeping the repeatable construction cost of our home underneath current market values. In terms of economically feasible solar communities, I would say it is definitely possible,” said David Wax grad.

Wax is also working on a business plan that would enable the solar panels of “residential solar users” to not only be economically feasible but also profitable.

“Living in an environmentally sound home is an ideal that team members share,” Carter said. “For many of us, this is a testing ground for ideas we will implement later in our lives. It is technically possible and will become more economically feasible with time.”

Edward L. Robertson grad said he hopes to live in a solar-powered home one day himself.

“Absolutely!” he said. “The Solar Decathlon is the first way that I have been able to contribute a vision of my ideal home through the looking-glass of feasibility, innovation and gridless independence.”

He added, “The purpose of this living system is not to create [for] us the perfect home. It is to create the ideal home for the average person [who] does not have to be technically savvy to be able to run the solar home or environmentally educated upon purchasing the home. Our living system will primarily be the best financial decision for the average person.”

Team research will be available to design students and professionals, industries and interested citizens through a website and manual to be published in 2005. These will document the project as a case study and will include resources applicable to sustainable building.

“Personally,” Carter said, “I am really enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with students from such different academic backgrounds. Joining mechanical engineers, computer programmers, business students and architects in a joint project is rare indeed in most university settings. … The project is opening me up to new ways of thinking about problems and environmental issues in general. Everyone is contributing their best to the project, and we are making real progress as a team.”

She added that the team is welcoming new members with a goal to involve as many departments as possible.

“There is a role for every student,” Carter said.

Archived article by Lauryn Slotnick