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Building A Solar House: A Startup Fueled By Student Passion

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This is Part 1 of a two-part (or perhaps three-part), multi-site series about Santa Clara University’s 2013 Solar Decathlon house, Radiant House. Check in here tomorrow (Sunday, July 28) for a link to Part 2

solar house

By Brian Grau

While most college students spend their summers on road trips or internships, we’re getting up at the crack of dawn every day to build a solar-powered home. Radiant House will be Santa Clara University’s entry into the 2013 Solar Decathlon. The international competition challenges 20 teams of college students from around the world to design and build a fully solar-powered home.

Our goal is much bigger than building an energy efficient home. “We want to revolutionize the solar construction industry,” says Project Manager Jake Gallau, ‘13. Our team looks like a typical Silicon Valley startup, a bunch of bright kids with big ideas. Most of us are working in areas that we have little experience in. Our communications director is a mechanical engineer with a passion for robotics, and our plumbing system was initially designed by an economics major who plans to teach. We work on what we are interested in, not what our major determines. It’s a refreshing change of pace from most of our projects. Despite this being a very technical project, our team isn’t limited to engineers. We’ve recruited marketing students and art majors to help with social media and blogging. This project is interdisciplinary, and we want to give all students at Santa Clara University a chance to participate.

“It’s all hands on deck — literally, all hands helping build our deck, walls, joists, the systems that control lighting and temperature, the landscaping, and every project in between,” says Assistant Project Manager Nicole Pal, ‘14. “This is more than a lesson in engineering, we’re learning how to communicate, lead, and work together.”

Radiant House is built from the ground up with sustainable materials and technology. We designed and built a bamboo infrastructure that is the crown jewel of our innovation. We hope it becomes an industry standard, utilizing one of the most sustainable materials available. We’ve developed an app that controls the lighting and temperature of the house, and we’re using a new solar racking system. Our goal is to make renewable energy and sustainable design an integral part of the construction.

Charles “Charlie” Hernandez, a construction manager for Plant Construction in San Francisco, is on our team’s advisory committee. He said our work will be a valuable experience in the field. “Learning and constructing leading-edge building technology at this early point in their lives will allow them to join Bay Area builders in the near future, engaging quickly to have an impact on the sustainable and innovative delivery of construction.” A board member for the SCU Bronco Builders Association, Hernandez said he has enjoyed observing the students. “It’s been fun to watch Jake and his core team plan and implement a very detailed schedule while learning about real life challenges.”

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