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UMass LowellߝMassArt Team to Compete in 2011 Solar Decathlon

Contest Hosted by U.S. Department of Energy

Students erect solar-powered houses in the nation’s capital during the 2009 Solar Decathlon.

By Edwin L. Aguirre

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has chosen a joint team of architecture and engineering students from the Department of Architecture at Massachusetts College of Art and Design (MassArt) and UMass Lowell’s Solar Energy Engineering Program as one of 20 teams from around the world that will compete in the agency’s next Solar Decathlon.

The contest; which challenges students to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are affordable, energy-efficient, and attractive; will be held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2011.

“The UMass Lowell MassArt team is the only one from Massachusetts and one of only two from New England selected to compete,” says Dean John Ting of UMass Lowell’s Francis College of Engineering. “It will go up against other collegiate teams from the United States, Canada, Belgium, China and New Zealand.”

“We are very proud of the student team from UMass Lowell and MassArt for being selected for this prestigious international competition,” says Chancellor Marty Meehan. “They are a great example of how interdisciplinary research and collaboration can address critical issues, such as making alternative energy accessible and affordable. Their selection is also recognition of the strength of both institutions and the overall quality of public higher education in Massachusetts.”

Over the next 18 months, Team Massachusetts will design a house no larger than 1,000 square feet in area, build it during the summer of 2011 and put it on public display here in the state. Afterward, the house will be disassembled, shipped to Washington, reassembled on the Mall and opened for public viewing for about 10 days.

All the houses will be judged in 10 categories: engineering, architecture, comfort zone, energy balance, communications, marketing, affordability, home entertainment, hot water and appliances. The house that garners the most points wins the Solar Decathlon.

“There are no prizes of any sort, just the honor of being chosen among the top three finalists from around the world,” says Walter Thomas, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel and a UMass Lowell doctoral candidate in energy engineering who is the team's lead engineer. Other members of the University’s team include Julianne Rhoads, Jonathan Hillman, Adam Kutrich and Roger Gyebi, who are all completing their master's degree in energy engineering.

“Our team has so far been made up entirely of members of the Solar Energy Club, which is one of the University’s graduate student organizations,” says Thomas. “Our faculty adviser is Prof. Robert Parkin of the Mechanical Engineering Department.”

The team is currently recruiting more members, and anyone interested in joining should e-mail

“We need electrical, mechanical, civil and chemical engineering students as well as business and management majors, both undergrads and graduates,” says Thomas. "This is a huge project that requires budgeting, marketing, public relations, fund raising, communications and, of course, engineering and architecture. There is more than enough opportunity for several dozen students to get involved."

The National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which runs the competition for DOE, has given each team a $100,000 grant to cover only logistical and administrative costs.

“Our team needs to raise funds to build the house,” he says. “We need sponsors and donors that can provide assistance in direct financial contributions or donated materials and/or labor. We do not have a set budget yet, but a rough estimate of the total amount required is upwards of $300,000. We are hoping to get support from the many renewable energy companies in the area that are associated with the University.”

For more information about the Solar Decathlon, visit

This photo shows a scale model of the energy-efficient house that Team Massachusetts is planning to construct for the 2011 competition.