UW Students Compete in Solar Decathlon for Next-Generation Clean Energy Buildings | News

June 17, 2022

construction site

Work is underway on a zero-energy home designed by UW students in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains and overlooking Red Canyon southwest of Lander. The UW student team is among 16 teams that were each awarded $50,000 to proceed with construction as part of the 2023 U.S. Department of Energy 20th annual Solar Decathlon Build Challenge. (Cory Toye Photo)

Students from the University of Wyoming’s College of Engineering and Applied Science are among 23 finalist teams — representing 23 collegiate institutions spanning four countries — in the 2023 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) 20th annual Solar Decathlon Build Challenge.

From the 23 finalist teams, the UW student team is now among 16 teams that have received approval to proceed with their projects. The teams have been awarded $50,000 in prize funding to build and exhibit their groundbreaking, zero-energy buildings next spring, and they will compete for contest and grand prizes in April 2023. Other teams that advanced to the list of 16 are from the University of California-Berkeley, the University of San Francisco, Texas A&M University and Washington University in St. Louis, Mo.

Last month, an excavator broke ground on the site for the UW student-designed home 10 miles southwest of Lander, in the foothills of the Wind River Mountains and overlooking Red Canyon. The house is scheduled to be completed in February 2023, when it will be instrumented and tested for the final stage of the DOE Solar Decathlon competition.

The UW team, composed of students in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, is collaborating with homebuilders Cory and Morgan Toye, of Timshel Construction, who have completed a number of energy-efficient and zero-energy homes in collaboration with UW faculty.

The UW students will have hands-on educational days this summer and fall to assist with the construction. They are mentored by Jon Gardzelewski and Anthony “Tony” Denzer, with the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management.

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Members of the UW student Solar Decathlon Build Challenge team include, from left: Benjamin Cole, of Cheyenne; Travis Wicks, of Casper; Elias Rhoads, of Lancaster, Pa.; and Alison Carlo, of Pueblo, Colo. (Jon Gardzelewski Photo)

“This year was the first year that UW has competed in the Solar Decathlon Build Challenge, so it is an amazing accomplishment for our students to have made it to the final round,” says Gardzelewski, an architect and former lecturer in the department. “I am very proud of the dedication, research and time our students and industry partners have put into this competition.”

The UW student-designed house will have a superinsulated and air-tight envelope; advanced heating systems, including a heat pump and radiant floors; green building materials; and a large array of solar panels to ensure the home will produce more energy than it consumes on an annual basis.

“The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home is designed to have all of the amenities and comforts of a typical new home, designed in a contemporary Mountain West style,” says Denzer, a professor and department head. “As a demonstration for Wyoming homebuyers, our students aimed to show that a zero-energy house does not need to look like a science experiment but can be stylish and high-performing.”

The UW student team will showcase the home to the public, with both in-person tours and 3D virtual tours, and will then present to jurors again at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in April 2023 for the final awards. After the competition, the home on its 6-acre lot will be made available for sale.

Members of the UW student team, listed by hometown, are:

Aurora, Colo. — Keelie Wortmann, junior.

Casper — Travis Wicks, junior.

Cheyenne — Benjamin Cole, recently graduated senior.

Guatemala — Manuel Cabrera Rodas, recently graduated senior.

Lancaster, Pa. — Elias Rhoads, recently graduated senior.

Pueblo, Colo. — Alison Carlo, graduate student.

Scottsbluff, Neb. — Shianne Shaver, recently graduated senior.

architectural drawing

This is a rendering of the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home designed by the UW student team.

The Solar Decathlon is DOE’s longest-tenured student competition that has challenged 40,000 students across the world to use the latest technologies to design and build the most sustainable buildings possible.

“For 20 years, DOE’s Solar Decathlon has harnessed the ingenuity and enthusiasm of America’s students to generate cutting-edge climate solutions,” says U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. “The innovative building designs developed by this year’s competitors demonstrate how clean energy technologies can be applied to households across the country, including slashing costs for American families, modernizing energy infrastructure and decarbonizing the building sector.”

For more information about the UW zero-energy home, call Gardzelewski at (307) 343-0088 or email jongardzelewski@gmail.com.

For more information about the UW Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, visit www.uwyo.edu/civil.

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