Illinois team prepares for 2011 Solar Decathlon

ECE News

Susan Kantor, ECE ILLINOIS

Story Highlights

  • The Illinois team was selected to compete in the 2011 Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C.
  • ECE graduate students Stanton Cady and Jonathan Ehlmann will be leading the electrical engineering component of the competition.
  • The team is looking for new members to contribute to the design and building of this energy-efficient house.

Illinois will be the team to beat in the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

Alejandro  Dominguez-Garcia
Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia

Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon brings together 20 teams from universities around the world, each designing and building a solar-powered house. In 2009, Illinois’ Gable Home came in second place overall, and Germany, which earned top honors, will not be competing in 2011.

“They set the bar very high in the previous competition, so it’s going to be tough to do better because that would mean winning it,” said ECE Assistant Professor Alejandro Dominguez-Garcia. “I have seen the preliminary house design, and the idea is fantastic”

The Illinois team submitted its proposal to the Department of Energy in November. Called "Community Conexion," the Illinois entry offers a sustainable disaster-relief house designed to be deployed in stages to help re-establish communities and provide aid throughout a disaster-relief effort.

Community Conexion, the Illinois entry in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, is intended to help re-establish communities and provide aid during a disaster-relief effort.
Community Conexion, the Illinois entry in the 2011 Solar Decathlon, is intended to help re-establish communities and provide aid during a disaster-relief effort.

Illinois made it through the preliminary stage and is one of 20 teams selected for the 2011 competition. There are several new teams this year and a greater international presence, with teams from China, New Zealand, Belgium, and Canada.

ECE graduate students Stanton Cady and Jonathan Ehlmann were members of the 2009 team and will be leading the electrical engineering part of the team.

“We’re very happy to have made the competition, but now we’re trying to recruit our whole team within the last month of school,” Ehlmann said.

Jonathan Ehlmann
Jonathan Ehlmann

Because Ehlmann and Cady have been through the competition, they bring the experience of past team members and understand what needs to be accomplished.

“Toward the end of the competition when we were in D.C., I was talking about submitting a proposal because I had a really good time,” Cady said. “I thought it would be fun to have more of a leadership role.”

Cady and Ehlmann will lead two classes associated with the Solar Decathlon: ENG 491SD and ECE 297ADG, which Dominguez-Garcia will advise.

Stanton Cady
Stanton Cady

“I’ve been contemplating a few research ideas that if they come to fruition, might be interesting to try and implement in the Solar Decathlon house,” Dominguez-Garcia said. “It’s not only about minimizing the energy consumption over some time frame, but another dimension is to make the consumption of the house completely predictable because it helps the system to which the house is connected.”

The classes will offer a hands-on, independent approach to learning. If students take ENG 491 for two semesters, they can receive senior design credit.

“For senior design, people build their circuits to get an A, but for this, we want to give projects that actually work for the competition. We can’t have things that work partially,” Cady said.

Working on the Solar Decathlon house will also give students real-world experience. They will be working with a mix of majors, including mechanical engineers, civil engineers, and architects. 

“It definitely gives you the insight of what it is like to have a job in industry,” Cady said.

Once the group of engineers is assembled, Cady and Ehlmann will start concentrating on the different systems of the house, including the photovoltaic design, the solar panels, inverters, and especially the house’s control system.

“We kind of threw the control system together late last time,” Ehlmann said. “We got something working before the competition, and it was actually pretty good. One of the judges said it was the most intuitive systems he had used.”

This year, the team plans to work on the system earlier to make it more refined and have increased functionality.

And the team is looking for members. The competition will be in October 2011 in Washington, D.C., so the team needs sophomores and juniors who will be students through next fall’s semester. The team will be judged on 10 different competitions, including marketing, communications, and architecture, so there are plenty of non-engineering opportunities.

For more information about the 2011 Solar Decathlon team, e-mail

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