Southfield, Mich. – The Lawrence Technological University students and recent graduates experienced the deep satisfaction of being part of something larger than themselves last week when they competed in the Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Lawrence Tech’s Team ALOeTERRA spent two years and numerous sleepless nights to design and build an energy-self-sufficient house in preparation for eight days of competition with 19 other universities from around the country, as well as from Canada, Germany and Spain.
While a problem with the hot water circulation system took the team out of contention early, the Lawrence Tech community, corporate sponsors and governmental leaders have been universally united in their encouragement to the team to learn from the competition, regroup and try again.
Germany’s Technische Universitat Darmstadt won the competition, followed by the University of Maryland and Santa Clara University in California.
Lawrence Tech was the smallest university in the Solar Decathlon and the only team from Michigan. This was Lawrence Tech’s first Solar Decathlon, which was also held in 2002 and 2005. Entrants returning from previous years were quick to point out that this year’s competition was the most challenging yet.
The teams competed in 10 events to test how successful their 800-square-foot houses were in producing and conserving energy while also demonstrating how an energy self-sufficient house can be fully functional, comfortable and aesthetically pleasing.
More than 100,000 people toured the homes on the National Mall, and thousands more will learn about the accomplishments of these students in the years to come.
According to the Department of Energy organizers, for the first time this year both home buyers and builders came to see what they can do now or in the near future to reduce energy consumption. Many of the solar power and building technologies showcased on the National Mall are currently available for purchase and use.
A major goal of the Solar Decathlon was to show the public that solar energy has become a realistic option for residential use. It wasn’t enough for the houses to achieve energy self-sufficiency – the goal was to create a house that consumers would want to buy and live in.
The Lawrence Tech team scored well in many of the contests and was one of the runners-up in the BP People’s Choice Award competition, thanks to its architectural design that many people found very livable. It was the only house with a completely separate second bedroom.
“Many people told us that our house was the one they could see themselves living in,” said team member Christina Span, who graduated from Lawrence Tech in May with a degree in architecture.
This is one of those competitions in which every participant is a winner, just by having survived a rigorous application process and being selected to compete. All the student teams contributed to the essential task of increasing awareness about residential energy consumption.
The United States and the industrialized world stand at a crossroads – global warming and rising oil prices require a major shift in thinking about energy consumption. That was a theme highlighted during visits to the home by local Congressional Representatives Joe Knollenberg and Sander Levin, as well as Senator Carl Levin.
The Solar Decathlon also fits in with President George W. Bush’s Solar America Initiative, which seeks to make solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015.
“The Solar Decathlon is a great demonstration of the ways in which technology, science and design can be blended in the promotion of net-zero-energy homes,” Department of Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said at the awards ceremony. “Promoting the early commercialization of solar and other energy efficient technologies will help secure America’s clean energy future.”
The Solar Decathlon homes required no energy from the grid, yielded zero carbon, and even produced extra energy to power a small electric vehicle. If college students can build a comfortable house that is completely energy-self-sufficient, many homeowners should be able to use the sun for 30 percent or even 50 percent of their home’s energy needs.
The Solar Decathlon also served as the start of a campaign to show the people of southeast Michigan what they can do to reduce energy consumption at home. Thanks to an initiative spearheaded by the Troy Chamber of Commerce, the city of Troy has acquired the Lawrence Tech Solar Decathlon house to serve as a demonstration and teaching center for energy conservation. Homeowners from around Metro Detroit will be able to see firsthand some of the practical steps they can take now to reduce the energy consumption of their own homes.
For more information, visit the Lawrence Tech team’s website, solar.ltu.edu or the Department of Energy’s website for the competition, www.solardecathlon.org.
Lawrence Technological University, www.ltu.edu, offers more than 60 undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral degree programs in Colleges of Architecture and Design, Arts and Sciences, Engineering, and Management. Founded in 1932, the 5,000-student, private university pioneered evening classes 75 years ago, and today has a growing number of weekend and online programs. Lawrence Tech’s 102-acre campus is in Southfield, with education centers in Livonia, Clinton Township, Traverse City, and Petoskey. Lawrence Tech also offers programs with partner universities in Canada, Mexico, Europe and Asia.