ME Solar Decathlon Student Experience

 “Simply put, there’s nothing else like it.”

This sentence is what you’ll find on the front page of U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon Official website. And after talking with students who competed in this year’s competition, one would be inclined to agree.

For Mechanical Engineering undergraduate student Charles White, Solar Decathlon was the ultimate combination of his personal passions and the technical expertise he has gained throughout his time at Maryland. The competition, held October 5-15 of this year, was one he won’t soon forget, and for good reason.

White was the HVAC Team Lead for the 2017 University of Maryland team. In this role, he led the install for many of the systems for this year’s house, reACT. Students on the team came from different departments both inside the Clark School, from mechanical to chemical engineering, and from the University of Maryland as a whole, including architecture and environmental science and technology.

The team ultimately finished second overall out of eleven teams, scoring especially well in innovation and market potential.  Other teams included University of California Berkeley/University of Denver, Missouri University of Science & Technology, University of Nevada Las Vegas, University of Alabama, and other Big Ten school Northwestern University. The competition was won by the Swiss Team, which was made up of participants from different schools in Switzerland.

Serving as part of the leadership on this install was no small task. In order to have time to set up the house, White and other students flew out two weeks before the event.

White’s role on the 2017 team included sizing equipment and drawing up ultra-energy efficient configurations that took advantage of passive solar gains.

“With safety and craftsmanship in mind, we completed electrical, water, ventilation and refrigeration connections which met building codes and satisfied industry standards. The Solar Decathlon provided a hands-on, intensive learning experience for us on the latest sustainable building materials, smart home solutions and water conservation methods in clean energy technologies,” said White.

White has always had a passion for the environment and sustainability. A transfer student, he started off in environmental studies before switching to mechanical engineering upon getting accepted to Maryland. After hearing about Solar Decathlon in Dean Pines’s Dialogue with the Dean seminar in Fall 2015, White knew his chance to get involved when UMD announced their participation in the upcoming Denver competition. He next enrolled in Dr. Junho Hwang’s ENME 489M Ultra Energy Efficient Thermal System, a class focused on HVAC design, energy modeling, and refrigeration cycle analysis.

While his experience with Solar Decathlon is now over, White plans to continue honing the technical skills he picked up in this year’s competition. After he graduates this December, he will begin a career with Siemens Building Technologies in Washington, DC.

DOE Solar Decathlon has been held biennially since 2005. UMD won the event in 2011 with its WaterShed house and placed second in 2007 with LEAFHouse.

Members of the 2017 Solar Decathlon team reACT following their second place finish at the competition in Denver, Colo.

Published December 18, 2017