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Lawmakers Impressed by Student Designs for Solar Decathlon Competition

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Justin Beach

Jon Stone

Media Relations Manager

Jon Stone

Mayor, governor and senator tour DU and UC Berkeley home

News  •

It’s not every day that the work of college students catches the attention of our elected leaders. However, after more than two years of hard work, they’re paying attention now.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition began. Eleven student teams from around the world are competing in ten different categories that include architecture, innovation, water and energy usage, and whether the house is capable of being a home. With the city of Denver hosting the competition, the one team receiving a lot of attention is the collaboration between the University of Denver and the University of California at Berkeley.

“These students have essentially been running a company for the past two years,” says Colorado Senator Michael Bennet. “They have had to interact, company to company, with the suppliers who have supported the work they are doing. They are learning to apply the knowledge they have gained in the classroom to something that is very practical and they can take it with them for the rest of their lives.”

Bennet toured the UC Berkeley/DU home after spending 20 minutes with more than 200 middle school students from around the metro area. The homes on display for the solar decathlon competition provide an opportunity for everyone to learn about different sustainable designs that are possible in homes.

“All these kids are like nuclear reactors of ideas,” says Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper. “These are the kids who do not know limits, they have not gone through the life experiences and have been beaten down. They are still thinking they can do anything, and you know what? They can.”

Hickenlooper visited the competition site with Denver Mayor Michael Hancock. Both were impressed with the sustainable designs in the UC Berkeley/DU home. The house is powered by a solar array and the home stores energy allowing it to operate off the grid. The kitchen contains appliances that maintain the home’s net-zero energy. The bathroom has a Grey Water Recycling System that collects bath and shower water, filters, disinfects and recycles it for use in the toilet. The bedrooms have murphy beds and the walls move to allow for expanded living space.

“Our future is in the hands of some really bright people,” Hancock says. “They really gave some great thought to this and didn’t just put up four walls. They really thought through how do we make it more efficient, how do we serve a family who may live in the space.”

Students from UC Berkeley were accepted into the competition in 2015 and started working on planning and designing the home. Earlier this year they partnered with DU’s Franklin L. Burns School of Real Estate and Construction Management to make the home a reality. For the students, they hope the attention their home is receiving has a future impact.

“It’s kind of cool when you see someone that important walk through the house and really appreciate it,” says Sam Durkin, the student project manager from UC Berkeley. “Perhaps they might actually be able to look at some of these concepts and maybe bring them into policy discussions, see if we can change our water policy, or encourage sustainable energy technologies.”

One place where their home will have a lasting impact is in the city of Denver. Following the competition, the home will be donated to Habitat for Humanity who will help ensure it goes to a family that truly needs it.

“We are working on affordable housing issues in Denver, we need affordable housing,” Hancock says. “I’m excited that this house developed by DU and UC Berkeley will remain in Denver for a family through Habitat for Humanity. It’s a great opportunity for Denver and some families are going to benefit greatly.”

To check out a behind the scenes tour of the DU/UC Berkeley home, please click here.
To learn about Eric Holt, the University of Denver assistant professor overseeing students from DU and UC Berkeley in the solar decathlon competition, please click here.