Mines students to compete in Solar Decathlon AFRICA

Competition takes place in Morocco in September


It’s not an African safari, but Colorado School of Mines students are participating in quite an adventure in Morocco this September.

A group from Mines is competing in Solar Decathlon AFRICA — an international collegiate competition that challenges student teams to design, build and operate a full-sized, solar-powered home in a five-week time period.

This “is a large event for our school,” said Katie Schneider, a graduate student studying mechanical engineering. “We are excited to represent Colorado as one of only three U.S. teams competing in this competition.”

Mines was accepted to compete in the Solar Decathlon AFRICA in March 2018, and since, about 20-to-30 Mines students have been working on the planning and design of the home. They are partnering with about 20 students from two different universities in Morocco.

Six of the Mines students traveled to Morocco near the end of August to begin construction of the home. They have three weeks to build it, prior to the two weeks of competition on Sept. 13-27.

“I have loved getting to know the people we work with,” said Lucy Davis, a senior studying civil engineering at Mines. She added Mines students have spent hours in the past year-and-a-half video chatting with each other and their partners in Morocco. “To me, learning about the completely different, but surprisingly similar, lives that each of us lead has been the most incredible part.”

The team name is InterHouse and they are competing against 19 other teams made up of university students from around the world. Judging will be in 10 separate events — assessing the home’s architecture, engineering and construction, market appeal, social awareness, appliances, livability, sustainability, health and comfort, energy balance and innovation.

This year is the first for Africa to put on a solar decathlon, and it is the first time for Mines students to compete in any solar decathlon. The U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon got its start in 2002 and has taken place biennially in various U.S. cities. It took place in Denver in 2017. Although Mines did not compete, students took their tiny home to display at the Sustainability Expo part of the Solar Decathlon in Denver.

“The tiny home helped train us for this one,” Schneider said of the Solar Decathlon AFRICA. Schneider has been involved with the tiny home since her freshman year at Mines.

The house the Mines students and their Moroccan partners are building will be about 1,000 square feet with two bedrooms, a bathroom, kitchen and living space. It will feature Moroccan-style architecture, U-shaped with a courtyard.

It will be net zero and powered by solar energy — using second-life batteries from a Nissan Leaf, an electric car, to build the home’s battery unit to store its solar power. This, and the home’s custom HVAC system, have been shipped to Morocco. Other building materials, such as the compressed, stabilized earth bricks, which are similar to adobe, the students will be using to construct the home, will be sourced in Morocco.

After the competition, the home will stay in Morocco as a model home and/or for research purposes.

Participating in the Solar Decathlon AFRICA is an extracurricular project for the Mines students, and those who contributed to the project did so on a volunteer basis.

It has been “quite the undertaking,” but rewarding, Schneider said.

“This project is giving students a chance to develop leadership and problem-solving skills that the classroom can’t teach you,” Davis added. “There’s no better learning opportunity than actually getting to use what you learn in school on your own.”

Solar Decathlon, Africa, School of Mines, tiny home, sustainability, Christy Steadman


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