Team Texas Debuts Solar Home Built for International Competition
December 19, 2013 | UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS
This panoramic view shows Team Texas' solar decathlon home, built by students from The University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College.
Photo by Jason Flakes / U.S. Department of Energy
The U.S. Department of Energy's 2013 Solar Decathlon kicked off Thursday, Oct. 3, and took place over the course of a week in Irvine, Calif. The challenge in this competition was for a select few teams to design, build and operate a solar-powered home that was cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive.
After two years of hard work, everything finally culminated several thousand miles away from home for Team Texas — the only collegiate team selected from the state to participate in the international competition. The team included students from The University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College.
"We've been building what's called a net zero house where we're able to run the entire house on its own using absolutely no outside energy other than the sun," said Jacob Nevarez, a senior engineering student and lead mechanical engineer on the team.
For several months leading up to the competition, the 800-square-foot home was built in a lot near the El Paso International Airport. competition, the 800-square-foot home was built in a lot near the El Paso International Airport.
"That was the other challenging portion of this house," said Nicolas Mercado, a graduate student in construction management. "This actually has to be delivered [to California], so we have to make it to where we can disassemble it and assemble it there. This isn't going to come down wall for wall, we're going to cut it into four big pieces."
By the end of September, all four sections of the home arrived safely at the building site, and UTEP students raced to put the house back together in time for the competition's start date.
Nineteen other collegiate teams, who also built and transported their homes to the site, faced off in 10 contests: architecture, marketing appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort, hot water, appliances, home entertainment and energy balance.
Highlights of Team Texas' home included a completely recyclable corrugated metal roof, solar window shades, sun-tracking skylights, LED lights, an ADA accessible ramp and bifacial solar panels. In addition, the home was ductless and relied on an innovative heating and cooling system built into the floor and ceiling.
"We were able to use the small surface area on this house — just on this roof — to generate the entire energy needed for this home," said Nevarez, who added that the UTEP-EPCC home is valued at $250,000.
Students designed the home to represent El Paso, and the exterior of the house reflects both a southwestern style and the area's Hispanic influence. In fact, 85 percent of the materials for the exterior came from the Paso del Norte region.
"We really want the design to match our local arid area," Mercado said. "The mission of the team lies in developing a house that takes advantage of the abundance of sunshine in these dry lands using sustainability, and to communicate to and educate residents that sustainability can become a reality and a pleasure."
The competition ended Oct. 13 with Team Texas in 18th place. Afterward, the home was transported back to the Paso del Norte region. UTEP administrators are currently deciding where it will permanently reside.
"The successful completion of this two-year-long project is the result of more than 100 students from the colleges of Engineering, Business Administration, Liberal Arts and EPCC," said Richard Schoephoerster, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering. "I am very proud of Team Texas and the effort all put in to support our students. This has been a tremendous learning opportunity for them."