Team Capitol DC Places 7th in Worldwide Solar Decathlon

Solar Decathalon
October 03, 2013

“If you build it, they will come” is a popular take on a line from the movie Field of Dreams, but evidently it also holds true for the students of Team Capitol DC, whose entry placed 7th in the 2013 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon and drew 18,000 visitors during the competition, which was held in October in Irvine, CA.

The Solar Decathlon is a biennial competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. Preparations for the event began more than two years ago, when students and faculty from GW, Catholic University of America, and American University joined forces to enter the Solar Decathlon as Team Capitol DC.

After winning one of the 20 slots available for this worldwide competition, students from the three universities got busy designing and building the team’s entry, the Harvest Home. GW was responsible for all the engineering, interior design, handicap access, and sustainable design issues, while Catholic University students were responsible for the architecture, and American University students handled the media and communications for the team.

“All the teams competing in the solar decathlon were required to design, build, and operate their homes during the competition, and this was all student led,” said Professor Kim Roddis, the lead SEAS professor on the team. “Faculty provided guidance, but this was the students’ project.”

The concept for the Harvest Home was to create a home that harvests natural resources to power it and help support its future resident. Students constructed it as a 700-square-foot, “net-zero energy” structure, one that is designed to produce as much energy as it consumes. The solar thermal system is responsible for heating the home’s water and is a closed loop system that does not require electricity to keep the water heated, as conventional systems do. The Harvest Home’s ecologically responsible design also uses storage tanks to collect rainwater and includes gardens on the home’s perimeter to supply some food for the homeowner. From the beginning, the Harvest Home was designed to be donated to a wounded American veteran who has returned from the wars in Afghanistan or Iraq. Team Capitol DC worked closely with Wounded Warrior Homes, which selected a veteran to occupy the home. Immediately following the competition, the Harvest Home was transported to San Diego and will soon be moved to its permanent site in Vista, CA.

“One of the things most unique about our house was that it really was a house that was going to be occupied by someone,” said Roddis. “It was a more complete home than any of the other houses in the competition, because very few of the others were going to remain a house. We’re very proud of the fact that we donated our house to the Wounded Warrior Homes.”

In addition to “doing good,” the students of Team Capitol DC also “did well.” Referring to the team’s 7th place finish, Dean David Dolling said, “Bearing in mind that this was our first foray into this intense competition, this was truly an achievement. It was a very tight race at the top. The competition was scored on a possible 1,000 points, and only 30 points separated Team Capitol DC and the winning team. But most importantly, our SEAS students had a unique and extraordinary learning experience.”

The SEAS students who participated in the project echoed that sentiment. Farah Albani, a junior studying systems engineering, was a member of the team and one of the students who traveled to California for the competition. Responding to a question about the impact on her of the solar home project, Ms. Albani said, “This is something that was of some interest to me earlier, but after this competition I’m so passionate about it. Being a part of something so amazing, I walked away with a different mindset on the future of energy.”