invaluable hands-on experience through their
decathlon e;orts. Architects and builders win
with the research and development advancements that come out of the competition. Consumers win by seeing the potential of solar-powered living firsthand. The planet wins
because everyone is working together toward
a clean, environmentally friendly way of life.
Most important, the student Decathletes
win the opportunity of a lifetime. ;ey have the
chance to apply their classroom education to
real-world situations, develop management and
problem-solving skills, represent their schools
at a global competition, forge camaraderie, be
creative, win a contest and maybe even be a
hero ; all of which adds up to an awesome
experience. ;e 2,000-plus students who will
participate directly in this year’s Solar Decathlon constitute a talented stable of well-trained
young adults ready to enter the workforce and
prepared to tackle virtually anything.
History shows that it’s tough
to predict which team will score
the most points in the decathlon.
Some things have changed since
DOE sent out invitations to participate in the inaugural 2002
Solar Decathlon, but others
remain the same. Speci;cally,
unexpected things can happen. Teams can triumph over
the greatest adversities to go
further and achieve more than
even the team itself expects.
One of my favorite examples of such a triumph is from
the 2007 Solar Decathlon. It’s
about a small school whose
team overcame every disadvantage, including some catastrophic mishaps during the transport of their
house, to outperform competitors with many
times their resources.
KAYE EVANS;LU TTERODT/SOLAR DECA THLON
Crowds pack the 2007 Solar Decathlon on the
National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Santa Clara University’s story has a li;le
of everything: appealing design, sustainable
materials and cu;ing-edge technology mixed
with drama, individual fortitude and a li;le
good fortune. In 2007, the team arrived late,
started in 18th place and worked its way up
to third, ahead of the Massachuse;s Institute
of Technology, Penn State and 15 other universities ; an amazing e;ort for the smallest
university (only 4,500 students) in a ;eld of
schools 10 times its size.
How did the team do so well against such
odds? I recently posed that question to James
Bickford, the team leader for the 2007 Santa
Clara team, whose leadership kept the team
focused when it ma;ered most.
Here is a summary of our conversation.
RICHARD: What were the two most
important design issues you grappled with?
JAMES: ;e biggest team challenge was
;guring out how to integrate a team of artists with a team of engineers. “Right-brained”
and “le;-brained” con;icts occurred all the
time. When we did ;nally manage to compromise, the resulting product was much be;er
than either side would have come up with on
their own. We de;nitely had a couple of epic
moments in the process, however!
;e biggest design challenge was determining how to make the house feel bigger without
Facing page, left, the Santa Clara house, which
won third place overall, is ;rst on the right. Right,
Santa Clara University team leader James Bickford holds the third-place Solar Decathlon 2007
trophy, surrounded by jubilant team members.
Due to transport problems, the team arrived
late, started in 18th place and worked its way
up to third, ahead of schools 10 times its size.
Plan to Attend
For approximately three weeks in October, the National Mall in
Washington, D.C., will be transformed
into a Solar Village, the site of 20 solar-powered houses designed and built by
university teams in four countries.
U.S. Department of Energy (DOE)
Solar Decathlon 2009 is the fourth
event since the competition was established in 2002. Teams are selected based
on proposals submitted. Competitors
for the 2009 Solar Decathlon were
announced in January 2008, giving
each team approximately one-and-a-half years to conceive and construct
every aspect of an attractive, energy-efficient house — powered
fully by solar energy.
DOE provides every team with
$100,000 in initial funding. The teams
are responsible for generating additional contributions of money, goods
and services to meet their needs.
Once the houses are complete, they
are disassembled and transported to
Washington for the competition on
the Mall, where they are re-assembled,
furnished, landscaped and readied for
judging by Solar Decathlon jurors and
viewing by the general public. After
the competition, teams again break
down their houses and transport them
back home, where they may be sold,
integrated into the campus or designated for another use.
Teams compete for points in 10
contests, ranging from design excellence to efficient use of energy throughout the home. The team with the most
combined points at the end
of the competition wins.
The Solar Village is open to the public
Oct. 9–13 and 15–18, with the overall
winner to be announced Oct. 16. Public
tours of the houses are from 11 a.m.
to 3 p.m. weekdays and from 10 a.m. to
5 p.m. on weekends. Visitors are
encouraged to meet the teams, view
the houses and experience the educational exhibits at this free event. Access
solardecathlon.org for full details.