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Washington State University School of Design + Construction News – 2016

Aiming for the sun: Solar Decathlon 2017

WSU students (in white, front and center) gather with other university teams on the National Mall at the opening of the 2005 Solar Decathlon. Photo: Stephano Paltera /Solar Decathlon
WSU students (in white, front and center) gather with other university teams on the National Mall at the opening of the 2005 Solar Decathlon. Photo: Stephano Paltera/Solar Decathlon

Washington State University students from a variety of disciplines will spend the next two years designing and building a solar home as part of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition. WSU was chosen to participate in the 2017 competition, which requires students to plan and build a 600 to 1,000 square-foot home that receives all its energy needs from the sun. Darrin Griechen, a faculty member in the architecture program in the School of Design and Construction, is leading the effort.

As part of the competition, the home must have modern conveniences powered by solar energy, including heating and air conditioning, refrigeration, hot water, lighting, appliances, and any digital communications. The competition aims to increase public awareness of solar energy and inspire innovative solutions in ecological design.

“We’re so excited that our students will be working directly on our most critical challenges in smart and sustainable living while also gaining tremendous hands-on experience at designing and building for the future,” said Phil Gruen, director of the School of Design and Construction. “More than ever in the School of Design and Construction, in our colleges, and at WSU, we remain focused on our land-grant mission of training our students to solve these most important and real problems for the world.”

WSU students from a wide variety of disciplines, including architecture, interior design, landscape architecture, construction management, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, electrical engineering, computer science, communications, business, and English all may be participating in the two-year project.

The WSU team aims to develop a net- zero solar energy home that integrates and is ready for smart grid technology.

“Future homes will exist as demand and response nodes within a larger system of intelligent urban infrastructure,” said Griechen. “We want to illuminate the possibilities by testing our home within the developing context of the ‘smart city.’”

WSU has a long history and expertise in electric power, advanced materials, and smart systems, and the team has had preliminary discussions about locating the home permanently within Spokane’s University District following the competition—a test bed area for Spokane’s larger “smart city” initiative. Initial construction of the house is slated to be near WSU’s brand-new PACCAR Environmental Technology Building on the Pullman campus.

“We are perfectly positioned to design, engineer, and build a home within this smart paradigm,” said Griechen.

Student teams will participate in 10 events in the competition. The home is judged on areas including architecture, affordability, market appeal, comfort, and energy use. The teams must also commute with an electric vehicle, using energy from their solar-powered home. For the first time, the 2017 competition will include $2 million in prize money.

This is the second time that WSU has participated in the event, which started in 2002. In 2005, a group of students traveled to Washington DC where their home was displayed on the National Mall.