Supporting Student Innovation

(By Steve Murphy)

Part of what makes my role at Blach (and an adjunct faculty member) so fulfilling is the opportunity to collaborate with students, many of whom are working to innovate current standards of design and construction to make a difference in the community.

There is a competition set for next month (October 3rd–13th) that many people may not be aware of.  It’s called the “Solar Decathlon,” a biannual competition that, in the words of the competition website, “challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.”  The competition involves 10 contests (architecture, market appeal, engineering, affordability, communication, comfort, hot water production, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance).  The winning team is the one that earns the highest points total for all 10 contests.

I was personally involved in this year’s competition, helping the team from our neighboring Santa Clara University (SCU) with the design of the mechanical systems for their “Radiant House.” Constructed earlier this year, the house was pre-assembled on the SCU campus. Once the initial construction was complete, the house’s energy systems were “test-driven” to ensure that they were fully functional.  The house was just recently de-constructed and placed on six trucks for a trip down I-5 to the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA, where the Solar Decathlon will be hosted.

This is the first competition that is not taking place on the Mall in Washington, DC and it is the third time that SCU has participated in the competition. Previously, the school achieved a third place finish in both 2007 and 2009. The winning houses from these past competitions have been converted into usable meeting spaces on SCU’s campus.

I’ve been involved in this competition since 2005, when my alma mater, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, entered the Solar Decathlon. I was able to assist in the re-construction of that team’s solar house in Washington, DC, and experienced first-hand the camaraderie and teamwork that makes it such an enjoyable and meaningful experience for the students, teachers and mentors. It was truly amazing to see the “Solar Village” of 20 solar homes being constructed in the Mall and the surrounding landscape, including the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building. It’s something that I’ll never forget. 

Other California teams competing in this year’s events include Stanford University, University of Southern California and a team effort between Southern California Institute of Architecture/California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Teams from the Czech Republic, Austria and Canadian provinces of Alberta and Ontario are also participating, making this an international event.

Visit at to learn more about the competition and to support a group of bright young minds as they strive to make a difference in sustainability and our future energy-consumption efforts. GO BRONCOS!

(Image used with permission by Dept of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Posted on September 09, 2013 by Steve Murphy
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