MIDDLEBURY — It seems like just yesterday that Middlebury College’s “Self-Reliance” solar-powered house headed down to Washington, D.C., to compete in the biennial Solar Decathlon competition. The Middlebury students last fall claimed fourth place overall in an international field of entries.
The U.S. Department of Energy last Thursday released its picks for the 2013 round of the highly selective competition, and Middlebury College and Norwich University both made the cut, in the company of 18 schools, with representation from the U.S., Canada, Austria and the Czech Republic.
The mood among the team was ecstatic Thursday evening, said sophomore Jack Kerby-Miller. Students immediately assembled an impromptu meeting to tackle the logistics of the road ahead.
“It was phenomenal,” said Kerby-Miller. “We’re so excited.”
But, said Kerby-Miller, the team — which has between 10 and 20 core members, but a list of more than 80 who have expressed interest — has a long road ahead. Each team has just under two years to design and build an energy-efficient home, culminating in a fall 2013 competition in Irvine, Calif.
“We’re at the bottom of the mountain, working our way up,” said Kerby-Miller.
Middlebury College’s preliminary design is called the “In-Fill Home,” with the concept of fitting a small residence into an unused urban space.
“The idea is that we’re filling in urban spaces, building community and providing space for a family to grow and live,” Kerby-Miller said.
While the project is still in the very preliminary stages, the team plans to create a construction plan by next summer and begin building in the early months of 2013. The focus will be not only on creating a house that creates more energy than it consumes, but on making sure that the building materials and methods in constructing the house are as sustainable as possible.
And it’s not just about the house — the students will be working to spread the word about low-energy and solar technologies, and to spark discussion around the topic of clean energy.
In that endeavor, said Kerby-Miller, the team has a solid grounding to build on, as the 2011 Solar Decathlon communications team was very active.
“(They’re) graduating this year, but we’re trying to glean as much from them as we can,” said Kerby-Miller. “Then we’ll work on expanding our networks.”
Erik Fendik, a senior who was very involved all through production on the 2011 Solar Decathlon house, said he couldn’t have hoped for a better experience, and will continue helping the 2013 team as the project gets off the ground.
“Those two years were the most incredible learning experience, and we have felt privileged to have participated in a project well beyond the liberal-arts classroom,” wrote Fendik in an email.
The houses themselves are judged on affordability, consumer appeal and design. The Middlebury College team placed first in three out of 10 categories at the fall 2011 competition.
Energy Secretary Harry Chu said on Thursday that the competition comes at a crucial time for energy in the United States.
“As President Obama made clear in the State of the Union address this week, we need to ensure that the next generation of America’s architects, engineers and entrepreneurs have the hands-on experience and training they need to lead our nation’s clean energy future,” said Secretary Chu.
Vermont’s congressional delegation also expressed its pride at the selection of the two teams, noting that one-tenth of the 2013 Solar Decathlon teams are from Vermont schools — no small feat for a state of just over 600,000.
“It is a testament to the strength of these schools that their designs were chosen to compete against teams from around the world,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “Vermont’s innovators already are helping to shape America’s energy future. We wish them luck and all of us in the Green Mountain State will be closely following their progress.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., had kudos for Middlebury College’s performance in the 2011 competition.
“Middlebury students did a great job constructing a solar home to compete in this competition last year, and I look forward to both the Middlebury and Norwich entries in 2013.”
And Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said efforts like the Solar Decathlon are crucial in encouraging innovation and progress in the field of green energy.
“As we work to chart a new energy future, one thing we can all agree on is that using less energy is a good place to start,” he said.
Reporter Andrea Suozzo is at email@example.com.
Update 1/30/12: The article originally stated that the 2011 Middlebury College Solar Decathlon house was called "Self Reliance." The article has been updated with the project's actual name, "Self-Reliance."