Santa Clara University


Aspiring Solar Decathletes Prepare for Competition

2013 Solar Decathletes in the control room of the 2009 Refract House Photo: Heidi Williams

Here we go again! Later this fall, the School of Engineering will submit a proposal to participate in the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon, an international competition in which 20 colleges and universities vie to design and build the best solar-powered home. Santa Clara University won third place in both the 2007 and 2009 competitions (taking a break in 2011 to focus on this year’s Centennial celebration).

A dedicated corps of undergraduate engineers are taking on the mantle proudly worn by their Bronco predecessors. A course in solar home design and analysis offered last spring ignited their passion for sustainable design and engineering and the crew spent the entire summer completing dozens of projects on the 2009 Refract House and “playing with the code on the control systems on the 2007 Ripple House to get the best efficiency out of the entire system,” said Teddy Tortorici ’13. Both solar homes are permanently and proudly installed on Santa Clara’s campus.

“Basically, we’re hooked now,” said Guillermo Gallardo’13, but for several of the aspiring decathletes the chance to join the solar team was a big factor in their decision to enroll at Santa Clara University. “I’d heard about the solar house before coming here, and I wanted to study sustainable design,” said Dane Kornasiewicz ’13. Jake Gallau’13 and Tortorici were also drawn to SCU because of a desire to get involved with the project. Kendra Lane’14, civil engineering, had initially considered studying architecture, so she is excited to be learning Revit, the design software used by architects.

To prepare for joining the competition the team—accompanied by faculty project manager and professor of mechanical engineering Tim Hight, and Jim Reites, S.J. , associate professor of religious studies and member of the faculty of the School of Engineering—has attended solar tech shows in the San Francisco Bay Area and traveled to Washington D.C. to tour the homes in this year’s Decathlon. A smaller group traveled even farther afield this fall, exploring innovations emerging from China with 2007 student project leader James Bickford ’08, manager of business development in China for Tigo Energy.

Some undergraduates might be overwhelmed by the scope of the project, but this crew is unfazed. “I was nervous and hesitant in the beginning," said Guillermo, "but by just getting involved and learning on the job we’re learning to just get it done."

With proposals due to the DOE by November 10, prospective contenders will be anxiously awaiting announcement of the selected teams by the end of the year. In the meantime, you can bet the Broncos will be hard at work in anticipation of a positive result.

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