stefano paltera courtesy photo

The Cal Poly Solar Decathlon team took third place Friday under the shadow of the Washington Monument.

The Solar Decathlon, hosted annually by the U.S. Department of Energy, took place on the lawn of the National Mall in Washington D.C. There, 18 universities competed to create the most efficient and architecturally attractive solar-powered home.

Cal Poly, the only team from California, was up and down in the standings for the two weeks of competition. On the final day, Cal Poly settled at third behind Cornell University and first place Colorado, the defending champion.

“It’s been an amazing experience,” said Sandy Stannard, a faculty adviser to the project. “Just being here is quite an accomplishment.”

The Cal Poly team had to construct a solar-powered, energy efficient and visually elegant home and then moved it to Washington D.C., where it would be judged. The judging covered everything from how well a dishwasher and clothes dryer ran, to the architecture of the house.

“We have been performing the best with the least power,” said Robert Johnson, an electrical engineering graduate student and the “strategist” for the team. “We are the most efficient team.”

One of the biggest challenges was transporting the house across the country, Stannard said. Cal Poly had to transport its house farther across land than any other team, so the house was designed to be easily moved and fit onto one truck

Once in Washington D.C., the team worked 15-hour days getting the house into working order and ready to be judged.

“Our kitchen window frames the Capital building,” Johnson said. “It is a beautiful site.”

Besides being judged, the houses were also open to the public while in Washington D.C. to show how solar power could be applied in any home.

“These future engineers and architectures are some of the brightest in the world,” U.S. Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman said in a press release. “The innovative technologies the students will present demonstrate that the widespread use of renewable energy to power our homes may be closer than we think.”

One challenge all of the teams faced during the competition was the weather. Rainstorms and clouds came through for several days, hindering the competition’s energy source. However, this only showed how efficient the homes truly were, Johnson said.

The solar project started two years ago, and since then over 100 Cal Poly students from numerous majors have participated in creating the home. Twelve Cal Poly students traveled to Washington D.C. to compete. Stannard said one of the aspects that made the team so strong was how students from many diverse majors could work so well together.

The team has now begun deconstructing the home to get it ready to be brought back to San Luis Obispo. Once back, Stannard hopes it will be put on display.

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