4-19-13 WVU team breaks ground on solar-powered, log home

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – West Virginia University students competing in the 2013 Solar Decathlon broke ground today (April 18) on a solar-powered, log home that they will build to tear down and rebuild again and again.

WVU was among 20 international teams selected to compete in the Decathlon, a collegiate design-and-build competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and slated for Oct. 3-13 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.

But before they make the trek to the West Coast, they’ll need to practice building their home.

The team’s practice site is near WVU’s Communications Building and the Student Recreation Center on the Evansdale campus.

“Our house – PEAK, or Preserving Energy with Appalachian Knowledge – was designed with one vision in mind: to capture the Appalachian spirit and bring it to the competition,” Branden Bellanca, team student project leader and computer engineering major, said during today’s groundbreaking ceremony. “The house strives to create a rustic, homey living environment while incorporating contemporary smart home automation systems. Our goal is to bring a house to the competition unlike any it has ever seen before.”

The team will build the home again at the competition in California, where it will matter the most.

The WVU house is the first log-style home accepted into the Decathlon. It will include solar panels, rely on natural resources to control temperature and incorporate a smart home system that utilizes sensors for various features.

“As a university president, I couldn’t be more proud of the passion and commitment our Solar Decathlon team has shown toward this project,” said WVU President Jim Clements, who attended the ceremony.

Clements added that the Solar Decathlon project reflects the overall energy initiatives of WVU.

“Developing safe, environmentally friendly energy sources is a critical issue for our nation — and it will only become more critical in the years ahead,” he said. “On a worldwide stage, this competition is showcasing the stature WVU has as one of the leading energy universities in the nation. And they will be showing the world that West Virginia, WVU, and our students are ready to help power America’s energy future.”

The WVU team consists of about 50 students across multiple disciplines, which include the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the College of Creative Arts, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and the College of Business & Economics.

Students have even reached across international borders for help on the project. Students in Morgantown have been working with representatives from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, which has a research agreement with WVU.

Gene Cilento, dean of the Statler College, applauded the students’ efforts.

“The road has not been without its struggles,” Cilento said. “This team of students has faced deadline pressures, fiscal pressures, communication pressures and personnel changes. And while I’m sure there have been times when they’ve wondered if their efforts have been worth it, I can guarantee them they are struggles worth learning. They will serve as a lesson to each and every one of them as they one day begin their professional careers.

“I’m incredibly proud of the fact that this project began in the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. And I’m incredibly proud to see the name West Virginia University right where it belongs – alongside the likes of Cal Tech, Stanford, UNC-Charlotte and USC among others.”

Students from the Statler College have led the WVU effort since Kenneth Hite, who’s now a graduate electrical engineering student, discovered the 2009 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. Hite came back to WVU to set the wheels in motion. He wanted WVU to participate and, hopefully, succeed, in a future decathlon.

“While walking around the National Mall, I saw a string of houses and tents surrounded by large crowds of people,” Hite said. “I entered what looked like an information tent to see what all the fuss was about. When I saw the excitement of all the students and the audience, I wished WVU students could be there to feel the same way. This was the birth of the WVU Solar Decathlon Team.”

The Department of Energy is providing each team with a $100,000 grant, and teams can also raise their own money.

According to the Department of Energy, the winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011.

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