Team Illinois named Grand Winner Finalist in US DOE Race to Zero Competition

Leanne Lucas, College of ACES

The Illinois Solar Decathlon team has been named one of five Grand Winner Finalists in the 2015 U.S. Department of Energy Race to Zero Student Design Competition. The competition took place April 18-20, 2015, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colo.

Team Illinois (l to r) Xinshi Zheng, HVAC/Energy Analysis Lead; Ryan Christensen, Architecture Lead; Matthew McClone, Project Manager; and Connor Bogner, Assistant Project Manager
Team Illinois (l to r) Xinshi Zheng, HVAC/Energy Analysis Lead; Ryan Christensen, Architecture Lead; Matthew McClone, Project Manager; and Connor Bogner, Assistant Project Manager
Thirty-three teams from 27 universities competed to design, analyze, and document a net-zero energy and net-zero water ready home that is cost-effective and consistent with mainstream builder construction practices. The total amount of energy used in a net-zero energy home on an annual basis is equivalent to or less than the amount of renewable energy created on the site. A net-zero water home means the home is certified for treatment of rainwater to potable standards. 

The Illinois team consisted of 28 students from four different colleges in the University of Illinois (Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, Business, Engineering, and Fine and Applied Arts) and eight different departments (agricultural and biological engineering, business, architecture, civil engineering, electrical engineering, industrial and general engineering, materials science and engineering, and mechanical engineering). 

Matthew McClone, a master’s student in civil engineering, is president of the Illinois Solar Decathlon team and project manager for the Race to Zero competition. He said they began work on the project in September 2014. “Derek Peterson, the associate director of park operations at Allerton Park, approached us to design and build a net zero energy retrofit of a 1940s farmer’s cottage that was slated for demolition. Everyone at Allerton has been very helpful throughout the project.”

The team named their project the Sun Catcher Cottage, and McClone said all 28 students participated in the preparation of the 60-page report (with 500 pages of appendices). The report included full construction documents, financial analysis, and information about the engineering systems. 

Kevin Fuller, a junior in civil engineering and treasurer for the organization, said, “You could take the packet and hand it to a contractor and they would have everything they needed to complete the work. Our retrofit design is completely ready to build.”

One of the requirements in the competition was to work with an industry partner. The team worked with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, a world-class architectural firm based in Chicago. 

“They were very helpful during the design process,” said McClone. “We visited their offices twice, and they did a final review of our construction documents and engineering drawings.”

Xinlei Wang, a professor in agricultural and biological engineering, is the team’s faculty advisor. Wang has worked with the Illinois Solar Decathlon team since 2006 on four solar decathlon competitions (U.S. 2007, 2009, 2011, and China 2013) as well as the Race to Zero competition.

“Solar Decathlon is a great opportunity for our students,” said Wang, “and that’s why I’m willing to continue to work with them. We always want to see our students succeed.”

McClone has been involved with the organization since 2012 and said, “The Solar Decathlon in general is the most valuable thing I’ve done in college. The experience is tremendous, it opens doors to work with industry partners, and you meet people you’d never meet otherwise. It was pretty exciting to meet people in leadership at the DOE.”

Fuller agreed, saying, “You can do a lot of theoretical work in college, but doing something this concrete that you know makes an impact can help you understand where you want to go and what you want to do in the area of sustainability.”

The team received funding for the project from a variety of sources, including the Engineering Council, the U of I Student Organization Resource Fee board, and the departments of agricultural and biological engineering, civil and environmental engineering, and electrical and computer engineering.

Illinois Solar Decathlon is currently establishing a team, recruiting advisors, and brainstorming concepts for the Solar Decathlon 2017 competition.