Norwich, Middlebury compete in international solar power competition

Middlebury’s entry in the Solar Decathlon competition is called InSite. Courtesy of Middlebury College

Middlebury’s entry in the Solar Decathlon competition is called InSite. Courtesy of Middlebury College

On a morning short on sunshine and long on rain, students from Middlebury College and Norwich University shared details of solar-powered houses the schools built and are shipping to an international competition in California.

“Even though there is no sun out there today -– these houses would work either way,” Daphne Larkin, director of communications at Norwich, said Tuesday at the event outside the Statehouse in Montpelier.

In a tent set up to fight off the rain, Gov. Peter Shumlin and the presidents of Middlebury College and Norwich University spoke in front of an audience of about 60 people. The schools were selected for the Solar Decathlon, an international biennial competition put on by the U.S. Department of Energy since 2002. The finals are in Irvine, Calif., next month.

The competition challenges collegiate teams to design and build houses that are cost-effective, attractive and energy-efficient, according to Jason Lutterman, of the office of energy efficiency and renewable energy at the U.S. Department of Energy.

“There are two things about Vermont that I think is striking — the first, I think, is our ability to innovate, and these students have proven once again that we can out-innovate the rest of them,” Shumlin said. “The second part is that we care deeply about our downtowns and our communities and what these buildings do is that they enhance these communities.”

Norwich’s entry in the Solar Decathlon competition is called Delta T-90. Here it is loaded on a truck to be delivered to the contest in Irvine, Calif. Courtesy of Norwich University

Norwich’s entry in the Solar Decathlon competition is called Delta T-90. Here it is loaded on a truck to be delivered to the contest in Irvine, Calif. Courtesy of Norwich University

The home built by Norwich students Delta T-90, is a modular house designed to maintain 70 degrees indoors when it’s minus 20 degrees Farenheit outdoors. More than 60 students from six academic disciplines have been working on the house over the past two years and cost $700,000 to develop, according to Larkin.

Middlebury’s home, InSite, has replaced the traditional solar panel roof placement with a green roof that insulates the house and helps it manage storm water. The home will be a “net-zero” solar-powered home, built to produce as much energy as it consumes. The total project cost was about $1.4 million and more than 100 students took part, according to a news release from the college. About 50 of those students will travel to California in weekly blocks to present the final project, said Ari Lattanzi, a Middlebury student.

The Middlebury house will travel by rail to reduce its carbon footprint, which made the construction more complicated, Lattanzi said. Starting on Sept. 23, her team will spend nine days setting the house up.

There is no cash prize for the competition, but there is a trophy and “the pride of knowing that you won,” said Lutterman of the Department of Energy.

The 20 finalists received up to $100,000 in grants from DOE to finish their projects, but additional costs were raised individually. The houses are rated for affordability and are not allowed to sell for more than $250,000.

Previous homes have been sold to recover costs or raise money for future teams, but most of the houses are used for research and are displayed at their respective universities.

The college offered resources in the form of faculty and space, but all other costs were covered by money raised from the community and private sponsors, said Ronald Liebowitz, Middlebury president.

Over the two first weeks in October, the contestants will compete in 10 disciplines judged by 12 jurors who are “at the top of their respective professions.” Each contest, which ranges from architecture to hot water to engineering, is worth a maximum of 100 points. The group that is closest to 1,000 points by the end of the month is the winner, according to the Solar Decathlon’s website.

Three teams that made it to the final round are from outside the U.S. — Czech Republic, Austria and Ontario, Canada.

In 2011, the Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., attracted more than 350,000 visitors. One of the purposes of the competition is to educate students and the public about the environmental benefits of clean-energy products, Lutterman said.

Middlebury placed 4th in the Solar Decathlon in 2011, which was held in Washington, D.C. It was the first liberal arts college to be selected for the competition. This is the first time competing for Norwich.

“Our house left the campus on trucks this morning,” said Shannon Sickler, a student representative for the Norwich project. “I’ve been working with this project for over two years, so it’s very exciting that we are finally getting there.”

Norwich President Richard Schneider (center) speaks during a send-off news conference outside the Statehouse on Tuesday with Gov. Peter Shumlin and Middlebury President Ronald Liebowitz. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

Norwich President Richard Schneider (center) speaks during a send-off news conference outside the Statehouse on Tuesday with Gov. Peter Shumlin and Middlebury President Ronald Liebowitz. Photo by Viola Gad/VTDigger

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