Global contest challenges 20 international universities

The potential health risks and global warming scares associated with natural gas pollution are enough to get the global community pressing for further awareness concerning alternate energy sources.

Students Work for Green Future

In Alberta, a group of about 20 Calgary students from Mount Royal University, the University of Calgary and SAIT Polytechnic are working together to solve the real-world problem of replacing natural gas with green energy.

The Solar Decathlon competition aims to promote green energy solutions by students and gives them the opportunity for real-world problem solving.

Rendering courtesy of Nathan Jubb.The students will be taking part in the Solar Decathlon competition. Hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon brings together 20 different teams from all around the world. Each team is required to build a self sustaining home through focusing on the use of solar energy.

The Alberta team’s home is called the Borealis – named after Alberta’s stunning northern lights and boreal forest. Borealis is roughly 900 sq. ft. of living space. The home will be built in three sections to enable easy transportation from its construction site at the U of C campus to Irvine, California – where the competition is being held. The competition will take place Oct. 3 – 13, 2013.

Each team is faced with 10 different challenges that encompass:

  • architecture
  • market appeal
  • engineering
  • communications
  • affordability
  • comfort zone
  • hot water
  • appliances
  • home entertainment
  • energy balance

Each aspect of the competition is worth 100 points.

Real World Problems

This year, one of the key focuses of the competition is affordability. The cost for the building materials of the homes must be under $350,000.

Manuel Mertin, vice-president and provost at MRU and member of the Alberta team steering committee, says that previous competitions had a more idealist focus, resulting in designs that would not be economically feasible to build.

“But this time is a much more practical approach and the Alberta team approach is actually focusing on the North,” Mertin says. He adds that Husky Energy has expressed some interest in using the Alberta team’s design for camps working up north.

Nathan Jubb, a student at MRU and communications co-lead for the Alberta team, says: “I think that Borealis solves a problem and it does it very strategically. I think it’s awesome that it solves a problem in a green way, which is where I think we need to start going.”

Share a Good Story

Jubb, along with four other information design students at MRU, focuses on the visual communications for the competition.

“We are able to tell a really cool story,” says Jubb, adding that people will be interested in the competition because it deals with green energy, is hosted in California and combines students from a variety of disciplines.

“It’s cool when everyone is the masters of their own craft, everyone knows what they’re doing and they are good at it. I thought it would be a shame not to tell such a cool story.”

The students meet weekly to work on the competition – although depending on their responsibilities they may also be working on tasks individually.

Students Receive Faculty Guidance

The students also work under the direction of the Alberta team steering committee – made up of instructors and university leaders – to help guide them and ensure they are staying on task. The steering committee meets monthly.

Helen Evans Warren, interior design chair at MRU and member of the Alberta team steering committee says, “Institutionally, everybody has to be on the same page to keep things moving forward.”

Evans Warren adds that setting fundraising deadlines for the students was key.

Between designing, building, shipping and travelling costs, the Alberta team needed to raise $1 million. The majority of the Alberta team’s funding came from sponsors such as the Government of Alberta and the U.S Department of Energy who have each contributed $100,000, as well as sponsorships from various Calgary corporations.

The fundraising for the competition needed to be set in place before building the home could begin. Although construction on the home has been delayed because of the snow, the site preparation begins on Earth Day.

Amazing Student Opportunity

Furthermore, Evans Warren and Mertin say that the competition is really about the students.

“You’re getting to meet all these like-minded students that you have something in common with even though you’re in different disciplines,” says Evans Warren. “You’ll learn how to work together and solve problems – it’s perfect.”

Jubb says that he “gained knowledge about being green, the building of the house and the message of the Solar Decathlon.” Jubb adds that being a part of a team and seeing what the team’s minds can put together is going to be spectacular.

Bring Her Home

Mertin says it is the goal of MRU to have Borealis on campus for public viewing

“I think it’s an opportunity for students and a community to learn about alternate power.”

scomber@cjournal.ca