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Solar decathlon club advances to national competition, plans to build environmental home

By Claire Weddle     2/2/16 9:05pm

Rice University’s Solar Decathlon Club is advancing to nationals after competing in October in Orange County, California. The club’s team is one of just 16 in the world to advance to the October 2017 national competition. Solar Decathlon is an international competition that challenges collegiate teams to design and build solar-powered and environmentally friendly homes.

The majority of students on the team, a group of approximately 160 members, are architecture or engineering majors who make up the architecture and engineering committees, respectively. The third committee is the communications team that works on fundraising the $300,000 budget needed to build the house. Co-President Travis Kwee explained the process of preparing for nationals.

“We kind of rushed into things because we had very little time between when we formed and when the proposal was due in October of last semester,” Kwee, a Baker College sophomore, said. “Now we actually have to build the house in order to submit it to nationals.”



Kwee said the organization is looking at several different sites for the house. The group aims to start construction by November of this year and finish construction by May of 2017.”

Co-President Caroline Brigham said that as an architecture major, she has a distinct leadership role from Kwee, as an engineering major.

“We oversee architecture and engineering a bit separately and then report to each other when we need information from the other side,” Brigham, a Side Richardson College junior, said. “As presidents, we’re trying to keep everyone informed and organized.”

Before the October 2015 competition, the club came up with 11 different designs, and only one was submitted to the competition. A class with course credit for Solar Decathlon is projected to start Feb. 6. The class is being formed by architecture professors in order to bring more organization to the preparation for nationals.

“Last semester we had a very short time to choose one of the 11 designs for the proposal, so we didn’t really give the other designs justice,” Brigham said. “What we’re hoping to do now in this class is to revisit those other great ideas and welcome new ideas. The real motive of this class is to get the whole school involved. Our team is mostly undergrads, but now a lot of grad students and professors are interested in being a part of it. The class is going to give some structure and motivation because now you can get course credit for the work you put in.”

There is a large amount of work to be done before nationals, and Brigham and Kwee said they are open to new members joining the club. Currently, they are in search of people to join the communications committee. Brigham said he emphasized that anyone is welcome to join the team, regardless of major or experience.

“We would love more people who have experience in finance,” Brigham said. “We want people who have experience in grant writing or have contacts with corporate firms that might be willing to donate. It would be great to have more support.”

The team said its ultimate goal is to donate the house after nationals to Project Row Houses, a nonprofit organization in Houston’s Third Ward.

“We hope to have a proactive role in the community,” Kwee said. “We’re trying to find a way to have people whose lives are a little bit up in the air to be able to have a secure home they can live in at no cost for as many months as they need to. It can be kind of a transition place. This a really exciting opportunity that I hope people will take to join us and help us build an entire solar powered house.”



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