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2013 Solar Decathlon teams visit the O.C. Great Park

The event, managed by the U.S. Dept. of Energy, is the first to be held outside Wash., D.C.

by Caitlin AdamsPublished: January 11, 2013 05:35 PM

Design renderings by the University of
Calgary (top), the Czech Technical
University (middle), and the University of
North Carolina at Charlotte (bottom)
On a crisp, clear Friday afternoon, students from across the country, Canada and Europe gathered at the Orange County Great Park to view the site of the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon. The biennial event is traditionally held in Washington D.C.; Irvine was selected in favor of major metropolitan hubs including New York, Atlanta and Detroit as the event’s 2013 host.

The makeup of the collegiate teams competing in the 2013 Solar Decathlon represents 30 colleges and universities from 14 states, with teams also representing Canada, Austria and the Czech Republic. The teams gathered at the Orange County Great Park Friday to tour the site and return for a full-day workshop covering the Decathlon’s “nuts and bolts” on Saturday.

The Solar Decathlon is a competition managed and coordinated by the U.S. Dept. of Energy that challenges teams of students to design, build and demonstrate solar-powered homes that are energy efficient, affordable, cost-effective and aesthetically appealing. The houses will be built “at home” at each team’s campus, then disassembled and shipped to the Great Park, where the teams will reassemble the structures.

The teams will have approximately ten days prior to the competition to rebuild the modular homes at the park’s Solar Village site, install appliances and fixtures, and ensure that all systems are working. The homes will then evaluated on 10 criteria, including comfort, engineering, communications, appliances, architecture and hot water. The homes will be on display and open for visitors to tour at a specially constructed Great Park Solar Village in the fall.

Richard King, a representative of the U.S. Dept. of Energy and director of the Solar Decathlon, said that Irvine was selected from among more than 20 cities across the nation that submitted proposals to host the 2013 Solar Decathlon. “It was a pretty competitive process last winter, and when I got out here and saw the beautiful sunshine and also the space out here at the Great Park, with 1,300 acres, there was just so much more we could do.”

King said that in the previous competitions, the Solar Village has been “kind of cramped” on the National Mall in D.C., and that there wasn’t any extra space available to expand the event. “So it was just, wow, this is the place we want to hold our first [Decathlon] outside of Washington, because we want to expand this competition [to be] even bigger.”

In addition to the main solar home competition, display and tours, the Great Park will concurrently host XPO, described as a “world’s fair of clean, renewable and efficient energy” and technology. Tim Shaw, manager of external affairs at Orange County Great Park Corporation, said that the goal of the larger XPO is for visitors to come away and live differently as a result of what they see and learn about renewable energy.

“We want to expand on the themes and the inspiration that the solar decathlon brings, and really highlight the width and breadth of clean, efficient and renewable energy. So we’re going to be presenting that in many different ways,” Shaw said. “What we want to make sure we’re doing with the XPO is that we never want inspiration and action to be too far apart from each other. So as [visitors] hear about the wonderful innovations that [the teams] have designed and built into these projects, we want them to be able to go out from the XPO and learn how they can incorporate that into their own lives.”

Emily Vandivert, an engineering student at the Missouri University of Science and Technology, said her team is excited and ready for the competition. The school is well recognized at the decathlon; it has been represented by teams at four of the five past events. She said that the team has the advantage of being able to consult with students from past competitive teams and get advice and insight into the design/build project. “We also have our last four houses on campus in what we call our solar village; they’re used for student housing and we can still use them for research.”

“We are mostly engineers on this project, so that makes us kind of unique,” Vandivert said, explaining that most other teams are comprised of students from several backgrounds. “We are very proud of our home automation system, it’s completely student-built … it controls everything in the house. We are the ‘chameleon house,’ so our concept is an adaptable living environment. Everything in the house is one big greatroom, we have partition walls, we have flipping panels on the exterior so the house actually changes colors, we have an adaptable grid wall where boxes can come out for storage.”

Missouri S&T has yet to win the competition, but Vandivert expressed confidence that this will be her team’s year.

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