Rice Receives $100K to Operate an Energy-Efficient Fully Solar-Powered Home

Rice University was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) as one of 20 university-led teams to compete in the fourth Solar Decathlon, which will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2009.

Rice was among teams selected from the U.S., Canada, Spain and Germany to receive $100,000 from DOE to uniquely design, build and operate an energy-efficient, fully solar-powered home. Each home will utilize energy-saving 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.

Engineering student Roque Sanchez, architecture student David Dewane and social sciences student Allison Elliot are leading the Rice team that is comprised mainly of engineering and architecture students -- about 20 students in all.

"We have been working on the competition's proposal for a while, so it was very rewarding when we found out we were selected," Sanchez said. "Our goal is not only to win the competition but to make a house that is easily replicable and fits in the Houston community."

Instead of just building a house for the competition, the Rice team is working with Rice School of Architecture’s Nonya Grenader, professor in practice, and Danny Samuels, the Visiting Smith Professor, to design a house for Project Row Houses -- a neighborhood-based art and cultural organization in Houston's Third Ward. The team will start constructing and testing components of the house this spring and hopes to have the house ready for an exhibition in early summer 2009.

"The house we build will have a life beyond the decathlon," Dewane said. "So it's important that we get this right. The house we're building is for Houston."

In their proposal for the house, the team has incorporated all the competition's requirements -- including a size limit of 800 square feet -- and important community details.

"The Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon is more than a student project," said Samuel Bodman, U.S. secretary of energy. "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.

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