Competition in the Sun

Students are the creative force at the forefront of the biennial Solar Decathlon competition. As part of the competition, they are charged with conceiving, designing, building and transporting a house that will need only the sun for generating electricity. Purdue is one of 20 schools selected to participate in the 2011 competition. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the Solar Decathlon has three goals. First, it is educational for the participants and the public who tour the homes. Second, teams demonstrate the opportunities presented by using energy-efficient designs and appliances as well as renewable energy. Finally, student participants gain unique training that prepares them for careers in a growing clean-energy workforce. Students use lessons learned in their classes and are assisted by faculty experts. But they have found that the real-world experience of corporations and contractors are just as important to creating a successful entry. From selecting the heating and air conditioning system to taking the home apart to move it 650 miles to Washington, D.C., the team has been able to lean on the expertise of corporate partners and Indiana businesses to push their design to become a net-zero energy one. “The industry partners have kept the students honest. It is one thing to make design calculations and another thing to make the design a reality,” said William Hutzel, associate professor of mechanical engineering technology and advisor to the team. “Outside expertise was also invaluable in terms of understanding what is realistically achievable.” Ingersoll Rand, parent company to Trane and Schlage, in addition to providing much-needed capital for the project, has agreed to supply the Purdue IN_Home with a high efficiency heat pump. They also will make sure its design fits into the home. In addition, a wireless lock system will be provided. “We see this as a showcase for Ingersoll Rand’s value around safety, comfort and efficiency as well as another way to increase our visibility at Purdue University, an important venue for recruiting new talent,” said Susan Burek, manager of research and partnerships in Ingersoll Rand’s Center for Energy Efficiency and Sustainability. Other gifts of materials include: SIPS panels for the structural walls, by ThermaCore; a heat pump water heater and high-efficiency kitchen and laundry appliances, by General Electric; water fixtures by Kohler; and a discounted photovoltaic array, which generates all of the electricity for the home. Expertise has also been offered. Ryan Fire Suppression will assist with designs for the home’s needs, and Hill Mechanical will assist in testing the homes seals for costly leaks. Local mechanical engineer Andy Schweitzer also will need to sign off on the engineering plans.