This commentary originally appeared on EDF’s Texas Clean Air Matter blog.
The Solar Decathlon, a competition that challenges colleges across the nation to design and construct efficient, affordable and attractive solar powered-home, is taking place October 3-13 at Orange Country Great Park in Irvine, California. The bi-annual event, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), awards the team that excels in combining cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal and energy efficiency into a state of the art home. But like many competitions, the real winners are those that pursue the challenge long after the bout ends, and this decathlon is no exception. Year after year, students graduate and form the next wave of clean energy entrepreneurs, engineers and architects looking to advance energy efficient homes.
This year, the University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College have joined forces to create Team Texas. The last time a Texas university participated in the Solar Decathlon was in 2007, when the University of Texas at Austin and Texas A&M University competed as two separate teams.
This year Team Texas has submitted ADAPT, a house that reflects the nature of the two universities’ homestead, El Paso. Its design maximizes the use of solar energy, an abundant resource in the Southwest, and is meant to feel natural on a mountain plateau, high desert or green farmland. ADAPT embraces the belief that “a home is not just a location or state of mind but a place where the heart is”.
The event itself is open to the public and free of charge. Visitors can tour the houses, get inspiration for their own homes and discover the benefits of energy-efficiency and self-generation. Following the Solar Decathlon, ADAPT will be housed on the El Paso campus and used for a variety of educational and social events.
The Lone Star State’s renewable energy potential is the largest in the nation, with abundant wind and solar resources across the state’s vast landscape. Traditionally, Texas has been an international leader in the oil and gas industry, but in the past decade Texas has made an important effort to increase investment in clean energy for a sustainable future. Universities and colleges are a prime asset in this clean energy focus, which is why the Solar Decathlon and other collegiate research opportunities are so important.
This past July, Texas Tech University established a new wind energy research facility in partnership with Sandia National Laboratories, an extension of the DOE, and with wind turbine manufacturer Vestas. According to Texas Tech researchers, ten percent to 40 percent of wind energy production is lost due to complex wind plant interaction. To create accurate predictions of power output, developers need to know how large numbers of wind turbines may interact with each other in a range of weather conditions. The Scaled Wind Farm Technology (SWiFT) facility tests and monitors the turbines to help operators address these issues and increase productivity for large wind farms.
While the end goal here is to make wind farms more productive, these efforts will also help cement Texas’ position as a leader in wind energy innovation. Similarly, Texas A&M University-Central Texas recently announced a collaboration with the Center for Solar Energy. As partners they will work to develop and test new technologies for solar power, with the goal of attracting new investment. Given the great solar energy potential in Texas, EDF is keen to see the expansion of non-wind renewable energy in the state. When completed, the $600 million center will span close to 800 acres and power the Texas A&M – Central Texas campus.
By advancing research in clean energy technologies, universities play an active role in contributing to the economic growth of the state. Students will continue their clean energy success outside of the classrooms to further their careers in a profession that is both sustainable and booming. Team Texas is hopeful that their work for the Solar Decathlon will set a new standard of energy efficiency in the El Paso community and the state. Here at EDF, we are big fans of the Solar Decathlon initiative; it not only spurs clean energy innovation, but also creates a spotlight for future innovators, especially in sunny, breezy Texas.