Illinois Solar Decathlon project receives major grants

ECE News

Tom Moone, ECE Illinois

Story Highlights

  • The Illinois Solar Decathlon team received two grants that provide about 75 percent of what is needed.
  • The team has been working to bring the design for the Illinois house into final form.
  • Engineering and architecture students have been working together to make the home's designs a reality.

Patrick Lyle Chapman
Patrick Lyle Chapman

The Illinois Solar Decathlon team recently received two major grants to assist in developing its project house for the 2009 Solar Decathlon. The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation provided $200,000 and the Department of Energy has provided $100,000 through the National Renewable Energy Lab.

“Together with other fundraising, these two grants give us money to actually build the house, to charge forward with some confidence that we’ve got enough funds to complete the project,” said ECE Associate Professor Patrick Lyle Chapman, one of the faculty advisors for the project. “These funds will provide about 75% of what we need for this competition.”

Sponsored by the Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon brings together teams from colleges and universities to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses. Among the focuses of the competition are the attractiveness, effectiveness, and energy-efficiency of the completed houses. And among the goals, according to the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Web page, are educating the participants about the benefits of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green technologies; raising awareness among the public these technologies; helping solar energy technologies enter the marketplace faster; and fostering collaboration among students of differing academic disciplines.

The Illinois team has been working through the fall semester to bring the design for the Illinois house into final form. “The first accomplishment was to get everyone to agree to the overall design of the house,” said Chapman. “And this last semester, we had architecture and industrial design students working on refinement of that design and actually working on converting the more aesthetic designs to a set of construction documents.” The engineering students on the team have also been pinpointing the placement of the various electrical and mechanical aspects of the house.

One of the goals for the Illinois house is the passive house standard. “It is 15 kilowatt hours per square meter, and that refers to energy to heat and cool the house,” said Chapman. “That’s extremely small.” For the Illinois house, which is about 450 square feet, that would be approximately $75 worth of electricity to heat and cool the house for an entire year.

So far, Chapman is pleased with how the team is interacting. Illinois had a team in the most recent 2007 competition, but it had gotten a late start on the project. “There were a lot of things that we wanted to include then that we didn’t have time to,” said Chapman. “This time around, we really got architecture and engineering on the same page earlier in the competition, and we were able to work out some things and consider more ideas. So our final design is the product of more collaboration.”

School of Architecture AssistantProfessor Mark Taylor, who is the project manager for building the house in collaboration with a local modular home manufacture, said that this spring semester will be crucial to the project. Though students from engineering and architecture have given shared presentations and papers with each other, this spring, “they will be working together with hammers and nails in hand,” said Taylor. “The unique approach we have for the roof assembly is what gives the house its character, but it will be a challenge to integrate the technology we need as seamlessly as possible into the building’s architecture.”

The Illinois Clean Energy Community Foundation was founded in 1999 to invest in clean energy development and land preservation efforts. The Foundation supports programs and projects that work to improving energy efficiency and develop renewable energy resources. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory is a unit of the Department of Energy and is the nation's primary laboratory for renewable energy and energy efficiency research and development.

Information about the 2009 Solar Decathlon and the Illinois house is available at

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