September 7, 2007

Stiff Competition Awaits C.U. at Solar Decathlon

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The 2007 Solar Decathlon, a competition that calls on 20 teams to design, build and operate an attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home, is only three weeks away, and the Cornell University Solar Decathlon team is gearing up for the challenge.

The Solar Decathlon, a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, is designed to encourage research and development of energy efficiency and energy production technologies while challenging students to come up with innovative new house designs. The competition, held in a makeshift “solar village” on the National Mall in Washington D.C., is also meant to make students and spectators alike more conscious of how energy impacts our daily lives.

The CUSD is composed of over 90 students from all seven of Cornell’s undergraduate colleges as well as the Johnson Graduate School of Business Management. The team competed for the first time in 2005 during the second Solar Decathlon and was awarded second place.

“This is the third Solar Decathlon,” said John Horst, a representative of the U.S. Department of Energy. “I expect this to be a very interesting, high level competition.”
This year, 11 out of the 20 teams who will participate in the Solar Decathlon are newcomers, and the CUSD’s status as a returning team will certainly give Cornell a competitive advantage according to Horst.
“It looks like Cornell would have a good understanding of the event and so we would expect them to be a strong contender,” he said.

The Solar Decathlon is comprised of 10 individual contests and each team can earn a certain amount of points per contest. In each of the ten contests, judges rate different aspects of the house including its aesthetic appeal, functionality, market viability and whether or not it would be comfortable to live in. The house must also pass some quantitative tests. For example, each day of the competition the team’s house must deliver 15 gallons of hot water in up to ten minutes to demonstrate that the house can provide enough energy to heat water for domestic uses.

The defining feature of the CUSD’s house design is its “light canopy,” a freestanding external framework around the house designed to support attachments such as photovoltaic panels, which convert light from the sun directly into electricity. Other potential attachments, including solar thermal collectors, vegetated panels and rainwater collection devices could provide the house with heat, food and water respectively.

During the 2005 Solar Decathlon, the CUSD was the only team to incorporate a landscape into its design, according to Gideon Stone ’09, who spoke at an open house yesterday at Cornell’s High Voltage Laboratory on Mitchell St. In 2005, the CUSD’s landscape was composed of organically grown vegetables, but this year the team plans to up the ante by incorporating trees and a wetland into the design.

The CUSD’s house is composed of under 700 square feet of living space, according to Stone, and cost over $580 thousand, most of which the team has already raised, according to Andrew Chessen ’08, a CUSD team leader.

After the competition, the CUSD’s house will go to Cornell alum, Marlene Krauss who won the house for $151 thousand during an auction on May 31, 2007.

“I really wanted to show my thanks to Cornell for all that it has done for my family,” Krauss said. “I also wanted to support the sustainable environment initiative that is being launched.”
Krauss hopes to donate the house to Cornell University.