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California team nabs 3rd place in international competition

October 19, 2007—Santa Clara, Calif. – Santa Clara University won third place in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon competition on the National Mall, in Washington D.C. today. The long road to the nation's Capitol began nearly 18 months ago for the University's Solar Decathlon team, and on Friday, Oct. 19, all the meticulous planning and sweat equity paid off. When the final results from this year's Solar Decathlon were announced, SCU stood in third place out of 20 competing colleges and universities, outdistancing Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell, and two-time decathlon winner University of Colorado, Boulder. 

"We're ecstatic," said James Bickford, a senior engineering student at SCU and the project manager for the University's solar house. "This has been an unbelievable experience for our team; competing against much bigger schools of this caliber, overcoming all kinds of obstacles and finishing in third place is quite an achievement. We're all just overwhelmed."

This is the first year SCU has entered the biennial Solar Decathlon, an international event sponsored by the Department of Energy in which 20 student teams compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient house, powered exclusively by the sun.

Each entry was judged on 10 different criteria and the competition included a battery of scored tests, adding up to a total of 1,200 possible points. The German Technische Universitat Darmstadt captured first place with 1,024 points. The University of Maryland followed with 999 points, and SCU's final overall score was 979.

The ten contests that make up the Solar Decathlon measure many aspects of a homes performance and appearance. A perfect total score for all ten contests in the Solar Decathlon is 1,200 points. Of the ten contests, "Communications," as well as "Lighting," "Comfort Zone," "Appliances," "Hot Water," "Energy Balance," and "Getting Around" are each worth up to 100 points. The "Architecture" contest is worth up to 200 points, followed by "Engineering" and "Market Viability," which are each worth up to 150 points and are scored subjectively. Performance is measured and points are awarded daily through the competition and the standings are updated on the Solar Decathlon website.

In the individual categories, SCU earned first-place points for "Hot Water" and "Energy Balance," and took second place in the "Communications," "Appliances," and "Getting Around" categories. ("Getting Around" involved racking up miles in a solar-powered car). In all categories except "Architecture," the team finished in the top 10.

"This award is a testimony to the hard work of our incredible students and the support the project received from our sponsors and the university," said Tim Healy, professor of engineering at Santa Clara University.

From its wrap-around deck to the outdoor furniture made from old wine barrels; from the student art on its walls to its blue denim insulation, SCU's solar house held its own among the 20 models on the National Mall. Special features of the California mission-style house include a solar-thermal-driven air conditioner, bamboo I-beams, and self-tinting windows.

Considered by many to be the underdog of the Solar Decathlon, Santa Clara University earned its berth in the Solar Decathlon contest only when another school bowed out – so the team got a late start. Also, as the only entry west of the Rockies, SCU's house had the greatest distance to travel, and this fact led to some nerve-wracking moments. On its way to the National Mall in Washington, D.C. the team's truck had a few mishaps with broken axles, and the 650-square-foot house arrived at its final destination three days after other universities had begun assembling their houses.

Undaunted, SCU students worked through the night and nonstop for the next couple of days, and in the end, their house was one of the first to pass every DOE inspection.  

"In spite of the initial difficulties, we had a lot going for us," said Bickford. "SCU has a phenomenal engineering department and we had tremendous support from school faculty and community members. The building of this house was truly a team effort that involved a lot of very talented people."

Among other teams in the Solar Decathlon were: Carnegie Mellon, Texas A&M University, Pennsylvania State University, and Universidad Politécnica de Madrid.

After D.C., many of the solar houses will become education centers, while others will take root as private homes. SCU's entry will return to campus as a showcase for green living, and will serve as a research laboratory and teaching tool in the field of sustainable energy.

For team and competition news:

Solar Decathlon Daily Journal & Blog

Read the Fortune magazine story on the Solar Decathlon and the Santa Clara entry

Read the USA TODAY story on the Solar Decathlon and the Santa Clara entry

Read the Christian Science Monitor story on the Solar Decathlon and the Santa Clara entry

Watch Fox KTVU's story on the SCU Solar Decathlon team in Washington, D.C.

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California's Silicon Valley, offers its 8,377 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, and engineering, plus master's and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master's universities, California's oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

<p>SCU's Solar Decathlon Team celebrates their win.</p>

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