Solar Decathlon Blog
Saturday, Oct. 12, 2013
Today, the competition phase of the Solar Decathlon ended when the overall winners were announced. Provost Dennis Jacobs, Dean Godfrey Mungal, and a number of faculty and staff members were there to cheer our Broncos on as Santa Clara University held steady at 11th Place following a 5th Place finish in Engineering.
Last night Dean Godfrey Mungal hosted our Solar Decathletes, their family members, faculty and staff at a dinner to honor the team. We were also delighted to have several members of Santa Clara's 2007 and 2009 teams join us. It was a fun night of sharing highlights and challenges and letting the team know how proud we are of their tremendous accomplishment. Faculty project manager Tim Hight lauded the team for their effort, and for their extraordinary cohesiveness, saying "the work you've done is just outstanding and those who get to go along for the ride are very appreciative." The Dean thanked the team on behalf of the entire School of Engineering, stating that the sense of pride and strength they have gained through participating in this project is something they will carry with them the rest of their lives.
Then it was student project leader Jake Gallau's (Class of 2013) turn to speak. "No one but the students can know what it took and what it took out of us to be a part of this. It was hell at times, but we built a beautiful home that we can be proud of." Jay Dubashi '15, who developed a love for the project by volunteering as a high school student to help with Santa Clara's 2009 entry in the Solar Decathlon, tugged everyone's heartstrings when he said, "It's been one hell of a journey. It really changed my life; it changed who I am and made me who I am."
It's this spirit of commitment to giving of themselves that led civil engineering professor Tonya Nilsson to declare, "It keeps me optimistic knowing folks like you are leading the way to a better future; I'm so proud of what you've done. Go, you!"
The 2013 Santa Clara University Solar Decathlon team can stand proudly beside their fellow Santa Clara Solar Decathletes. They brought a vision of a sustainable future to life for thousands of visitors with their elegantly efficient Radiant House. They learned, and grew, and inspired others with their astonishing effort. Congratulations, team; you make us so proud! Go Broncos!
If you would like to post a congratulatory note to the team, go to their Facebook page.
Friday, Oct. 11, 2013
This morning, the results from the Communications and Architecture juried contests were announced and our standing remained at 11th place for the overall competition. The better news, however, is that we took 1st Place in Comfort Zone and Home Entertainment and tied for 2nd in Hot Water. We also have a 1st Place finish in Energy Balance, but it was a 19-way tie! Isn't it amazing that all of the teams were able to complete their competitive tasks and still produce more energy than their homes needed to do so? A few years ago, this was a hotly contested portion of the competition. It just shows how quickly technology has evolved to enable truly "smart" homes and lifestyles.
Tomorrow, the Engineering contest and the overall winners will be announced. You can watch livestream video of the final Awards Ceremony, Saturday, October 12, 10 a.m. here. Go Broncos!
Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013
So, it was a bit of a rough morning for the Broncos. Having started the day in the No. 1 spot on the leaderboard, we fell to 11th place after the results were announced for the Affordability and Market Appeal contests. We knew we would take a hit for coming in over the targeted construction cost of $250k, but were surprised that we were in the middle of the pack regarding livability/marketability/buildability. All we can say is, these juried contests are subjective, so what one might consider livable could be unappealing to another. Ah, well....
Immediately after the announcements were made, the teams had to rush back to their homes to prepare for the crowds of visitors that would come through in a steady stream all day. School buses were already lined up in the parking lot and students from elementary school through high school were eagerly making their way from house to house for their tours. It was fun to see our Santa Clara Decathletes inspiring the future generation of engineers and architects through their work. Our Broncos do us proud—they are knowledgeble, welcoming, and enthusiastic in greeting the public and sharing their passion for sustainability.
There are three more juried contests; two of which (Architecture and Communications) will be announced tomorrow morning, while the results of the Engineering contest are saved until the final moments before the overall winners for the Solar Decathlon are revealed on Saturday. Fingers crossed that we score well tomorrow—don't forget that in 2007 we started in 18th place and ended up in third! Go Broncos!
Wednesday, Oct. 9, 2013
We've been dreading this day," said Paul Thurston '15, as he stood on the rain drenched deck of Radiant House, but even with a cold front passing through and rainclouds eliminating any chance for generating power through the photovoltaic panels on the roof, the house is performing well. Yesterday was a good day—the team was able to passively maintain the indoor temperature and humidity within acceptable contest guidelines without using heating or cooling and were thus able to store much of the 41 kwH of power they were able to generate throughout the day, despite partly cloudy skies. "It was our biggest achievement so far: we started the day with 5kwH and ended with 37," said Nick Jensen '15.
Towel washing and drying continued today. Taylor Donato '14 explained that the humidity in the air from the rain was actually helping the team with this task since the towels are heavier starting off, having been stored in a damp, drafty tent. "We dry them in our nice, temperature and humidity-controlled home, stuff them in a bag, close it tightly and run back to the tent to have them weighed," he said. Brittnie Swartchick '14 adds, "This morning we came in under the starting weight, but Taylor tried to fool us us that we were half a pound over!" Nice to know that even with the dreary weather, dispositions are still sunny.
Tonight the Architecture jury will come back to Radiant House to see how it looks after dark and check out all the lighting. They had their thorough walkthrough with these folks earlier today and also spent 20 minutes with the Engineering jury. Thurston notes that it's hard to guage the jurors' thoughts; "They don't react too much; as you're explaining things, they have their heads down, writing, so you really can't tell what they are thinking." Tomorrow will give us a clue, as the Market Appeal and Affordability results are announced.
The Solar Village is open to the public Thursday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. If you can't make it to Irvine, check out this video tour of Radiant House on YouTube. And don't forget to vote for Santa Clara University in the People's Choice Award. Go Broncos!
Tuesday, Oct. 8, 2013
If football is a game of inches, the Solar Decathlon sometimes seems like a game of minutes or ounces. Clock, scale, hammer, nail...they all factor into the final results.
Yesterday the team hosted juries from the Affordability and Market Appeal contests. The buzz around Solar Village is that Team Norwich will win the Affordability category as their house boasts a construction cost under $170k. All entries with a price tag of $250,000 or less will earn 100 points, while Radiant House, with its $350k cost to build will most likely receive 80 points. The students report that their presentations to both sets of judges went well. The results from these contests will be announced Thursday, so that's when we should start seeing some movement in the leaderboard. Right now, the top ten teams are all within 10 points of each other and our Broncos have held steady at 2nd place, just 2.5 points behind Team Capitol DC. If it weren't for our 3.5 point penalties (3 points for being 10 minutes late in passing the final inspection and a half point for being 20 minutes late submitting "as-built" drawings for Radiant House), we would be at the top of the heap.
Speaking of heaps, our Bronco Decathletes have been dealing with a heap of laundry for one of their tasks. Each team is given a stack of bath towels that have been weighed to exacting standards. After the teams' towels have been washed and dried, they are put back on the scale and in order to score points, the towels must weigh the same or less than when they started. Our students ran into some frustration as the moisture sensor in their dryer kept turning off the heat while their towels still had a fraction of an ounce of moisture in them. They kept cycling the towels through the dryer until time ran out. A quick look at the scores for the Appliances Contest indicates they may have passed the test.
Today, the Engineering and Communication juries cycle through Radiant House. These are areas where Santa Clara has excelled in past competitions and the team is hoping to continue that success. Go Broncos!
Monday, Oct. 7, 2013
Saturday was sunny and hot in Irvine—good weather for a Solar Decathlon! Dr. Hight reports that of the more than 2600 visitors that day, one group was a real stand-out: "The Bronco Men's Soccer Team was in the area for some matches and they came to the house en masse. Shouts of 'SCU SCU SCU' announced their arrival from several houses away." So great to have that support!
"Another milestone of the day," said Hight, "was getting into the top spot on the leader board! It is a nice achievement, although there is a very, very long way to go. What it does say is that the house is performing extremely well, and the team is taking care of all of the tasks that earn points – this is important because we are bound to lose points in the juried contests, such as affordability." Teams earn up to 100 points in the affordability contest if their construction costs are $250k or less—Radiant House comes in a bit higher. The team had to make some tough choices early in the design process between maximizing points or honoring their mission to produce a house that demonstrates their belief that living sustainably does not have to entail sacrifice in aesthetics or lifestyle. The long-term goal won out and the result is an exceptionally energy-efficient home that is also elegantly livable.
Making these types of concessions for the juried contests means that the team must be hyper-vigilant about performing well on the non-subjective, measured contests such as energy balance. On Sunday the team had a scare when they discovered their solar optimizer and PV monitoring system was not relaying data from the panels "and, worse," said Fr. Jim Reites, "the solar array was performing at only half power at midday!" After some troubleshooting, the management unit was unplugged and the system was rebooted. The good news: the system came right back online and the solar array was once again operating at full power. The not-so-good news: we lost a lot of precious time and sunlight when we could have been capturing energy and generating power to run the house and send back to the grid. Turns out both SCU and Stanford were using the same channel to communicate with their systems' gateways, causing interference between the two. The problem was fixed, but not before we dipped a bit negative in energy balance. Fr. Reites is confident we can make it up today.
Today is a big day in the competition. The Solar Village is closed to outside visitors as official juries are visiting each house for their timed walkthroughs. Teams are also performing a double-load of wash, the television and computer will be running, lights will be on this evening, and throughout the day three hot water draws will be taken (if you deliver 15 gallons of 110°F water within 10 minutes, you receive points; if not, you get nada; not to worry, our Broncos are pros at this.)
Let's hope the juries like what they see today, and don't forget to cast your ballot/s (you can vote repeatedly if you have multiple email addresses) for Radiant House in the People's Choice Award contest!
Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013
You may have heard that the competition was closed to the public Friday afternoon due to the Santa Ana winds, but that hasn't fazed our Broncos. Brian Grau '15, public relations lead for the team, said the closure was actually a blessing in disguise as the team was able to rest and some even caught a nap. They've been going full-tilt. While some greet visitors, talk to the media, or prepare a dinner party, others are vigilantly monitoring the sensor readings of their competitors (which are being updated by contest officials every 15 minutes) and making adjustments to our own systems in accordance. Sounds stressful, but Brian reports the team is in high spirits.
"We're excited. People are loving our house," he said. "A lot of our visitors Thursday were retired people—and our house was designed with this group in mind. Their response is really positive; a lot of them say they would love to move in right now and a group of ladies stood staring at the siding saying, 'I want this color!' It really makes us feel that we hit the nail on the head with Refract House." They are also pleased with the way their home handles a crowd. "We can have almost 90 people in the house and on the deck at any one time," said Brian, "and yesterday we had a wheelchair and a double-wide stroller pass each other with no problem in the hallway outside the bathroom; we were so happy about that!"
Friday was movie night; each team hosted members from three other teams for a showing of "Skyfall" and snacks. By the end of the competition, teams will have had to play that film ten times (yikes!) to simulate the energy consumed by typical television use.
Saturday night is another dinner party, with a Mexican theme this time. Thursday night's menu was Italian and in preparation for the competition, the team got help planning the menu and practicing the preparation from 2007 SCU Solar Decathlete, Frank Altamura '08, whose family owns and operates Ciccio Restaurant near Napa, California. You can find the menu and recipes here.
Media alert: Brian will be interviewed by NBC Bay Area Sunday morning during the 7 a.m. broadcast. Check your local listings and set your DVR or tune in.
Friday, Oct. 4, 2013
Yesterday was the official opening day for the Solar Decathlon and SCU was front and center at the opening ceremony as our own Fr. Jim Reites was on the dais as a featured speaker! Papa Reites spoke movingly about his experience as a faculty advisor to three SCU Solar Decathlon teams and was the only representative from any of the teams to speak. Later, when all the teams were called individually to the stage for a photo, the emcee announced "Santa Clara University, resplendent in red!" Awesome! (See our School of Engineering flag flying proudly in the group photo of opening day.)
Public tours began shortly thereafter and Radiant House welcomed more than 1,200 attendees through its doors the first day. Dr. Hight reports that our Broncos were very efficient at keeping a steady stream of visitors coming through while other teams chose to limit and control their flow by giving set talks at particular "tour stops"—resulting in attendance approximately one-third as large as Santa Clara's.
Initial impressions from visitors are positive for both Radiant House and for our knowledgeable and enthusiastic students, and people are loving the palm tree, the dog house, the deck (yea! it was worth the effort), and our gorgeous mech room with its wine barrel being used for thermal storage (an homage to California!).
Once the tours ended at 7 p.m., the house was closed up and all lights turned on because monitoring was being conducted for the comfort zone and lighting contests. Meanwhile, dinner was prepared for a few fellow Decathletes while three of our students enjoyed dining in other entrants' homes.
Today the team will be washing clothes, drawing hot water, and performing other contested tasks. Scores from some of these measured contests are starting to come in (warning: monitoring of Solar Decathlon scores may be habit-forming), and at the time of this post—despite losing a few hundredths of a point when the refrigerator door was opened to store some food for the dinner party—Santa Clara is in 3rd place! Yes, it's early in the game and the bulk of the scores won't be in until next week, but we're allowed to be excited for our Broncos.
Don't forget to cast your ballot for Santa Clara University in the People's Choice Award contest. You can vote repeatedly if you have multiple email addresses. Vote here. Go Broncos!
Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013
Today marks the official start of the 2013 Solar Decathlon! (Watch it live here at 9:30 a.m.) And after a mad scurry of work yesterday, all 19 homes that are onsite are ready to go for public tours today. Great news for all those hard-working Decathletes.
Speaking of hard-working Decathletes, aside from our team of students and faculty advisors, parents Cathy and Rob Avon have been a tremendous support to the Broncos—keeping the team well fed and pitching in to finish the interior by patching, sanding, painting...whatever. You may notice white roses in the Radiant House kitchen in some of our photos; that is Cathy's handiwork, too. Those two are rock stars!
Today the competition begins. Ten contests. Nineteen teams. One much better world for their efforts. Help cheer SCU on by posting a message on their Facebook page. Go Broncos!
Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013
Today is Media Day at the Solar Decathlon and the 20 teams vying for contention will face a barrage of reporters and cameras as they present their finished homes for the first time. Well...mostly finished.
Teams were to have completed all construction and site clean-up by noon yesterday. Reportedly, 6-8 of the teams had made the deadline while our Broncos were about 10 minutes behind (blame it on those pesky decking ramps and a proprietary "arc-fault" breaker that couldn't be tested using the contest officials' equipment). While this might cost us a few penalty points, at last report it appeared that construction on several homes was well behind schedule which could mean elimination from the competition. Let's hope that doesn't happen as it would be a very sad turn of events for those Decathletes after two years of hard work.
Our Broncos were on a full-out sprint to the finish line—working from early Monday morning until 2 a.m. Tuesday and then back onsite five hours later to get all their tasks done. Last-minute work included finalizing planter boxes, installing signage, arranging furniture, and (need we mention) completing the deck ramps.
The result: an absolutely radiant entry from Santa Clara University. SCU's Radiant House looks gorgeous and with its beautiful "Tahoe blue" exterior, it stands out among all the other entries (see if you don't agree—check out the photos on the Solar Decathlon website and notice how often you can spot us in the background).
A big shout-out to Steve Ashford and Bill Cline—volunteer deck designer/builders and construction mentors. "Without their help and guidance," said Dr. Hight, "we simply would not have made it. They really enjoy working with the students and seeing them become good problem solvers and engineers who appreciate the practicalities of getting a design to work well in the field." And isn't that what this experience is all about?
Props to the entire construction crew. Gotta love their drive, determination, and commitment. Next, it is on to the contest phase!