Under the Milwaukee Sun

by: Marjorie Piechowski

The U.S. Department of Energy announced that the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee is one of 20 universities selected from an international competition to participate in the 2009 Solar Decathlon. Two College of Engineering & Applied Science (CEAS) faculty members, Assistant Professor Yaoyu Li (Mechanical Engineering), and Assistant Professor Adel Nasiri (Electrical Engineering), along with Assistant Professors Greg Thomson and Chris Cornelius from the School of Architecture and Urban Planning (SARUP), submitted the winning proposal.

These four UWM faculty members will head an interdisciplinary student team that will design and build an 800-square-foot house powered entirely by solar energy. CEAS and SARUP are providing financial and in-kind support. UWM students have already begun to design and plan their structure, with additional financial support from We Energies, the local utility company in southeast Wisconsin.

The twenty teams will compete in the fourth Solar Decathlon, to be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2009. Each team will receive $100,000 from DOE to design, build and operate an energy efficient, fully solar-powered home for this unique competition. Each home will use energy-efficient technology and demonstrate that homes powered entirely by the sun do not have to sacrifice all the modern comforts and aesthetics Americans are accustomed to. The Solar Decathlon complements the President’s Solar America Initiative, which seeks to make solar power costcompetitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.

“The Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon is more than a student project. These creative teams will develop livable, working, energy efficient, and marketable home designs powered by cutting edge, currently available solar energy technology,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman said. “The caliber of this year’s proposals was outstanding and we were thrilled with the significant increase in the number of applicants. It will be exciting to watch as the students work over the next year-and-a-half to design, build, test, and showcase their homes.”

The Decathlon gets its name from the 10 specific areas of competition: architecture, engineering, market viability, communications, comfort, appliances, hot water, lighting, energy balance, and transportation. In addition to producing enough electricity and hot water to perform all the functions of a home, from powering lights and electronics to cooking, washing clothes and dishes, each home must produce surplus energy sufficient to power an electric car. The team that finishes the week of competition with the most points wins.

Selected design concepts represent a range of building technologies from diverse geographic locations, including those targeted for low-income gulf-state rebuilding, affordable urban renewal, and mass-producible habitats for suburban America. Applications for the competition were evaluated by a panel made up of engineers, scientists and other experts from DOE and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

Teams were required to meet specific criteria, demonstrating their ability to design and build an innovative, entirely solar-powered, 800-square-foot home from scratch, including the ability to raise additional funds and assemble a team necessary to carry the project through to completion. In October 2007, an estimated 120,000 visitors turned out on the National Mall to witness the competition.

In addition to UWM, 2008 winners included universities from across the United States,Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, and Spain.

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