Sept. 23 marked the beginning of the Solar Decathlon, a United States Department of Energy-sponsored architecture and engineering competition. Although the University of Hawai‘i at MÄnoa was scheduled to participate, funding and infrastructure complications prompted UH's team to withdraw its entry.
"We did have some early successes with fundraising, and we certainly were very appreciative, but we couldn't generate enough funds quickly enough," explained professor David Rockwood, who led the project.
The Solar Decathlon takes place in Potomac Park in Washington, D.C. This year, 20 competing collegiate teams were selected from around the world to try to build the most affordable, eco-friendly and aesthetically-appealing housing. UH's team, known as "Team Hawai‘i," would have competed against schools from the United States, Europe, New Zealand and China.
"I thought [the project] was really cool," said Robbie Johnson, a freshman at UH MÄnoa. "The whole prospect of a house that sustains itself ... It's a good idea to get these things out there for the future so we can take better care of our environment. It just sucks that they couldn't get enough funds to get it going," he added.
Teams are scored in 10 categories, including market appeal, affordability, comfort and self-sustainability. UH MÄnoa's project was named Hale Pilihonua ("Of the Earth" in Hawaiian). Unfortunately, Team Hawai‘i's house never made it past planning, and on June 1, Team Hawai‘i officially ended preparations for the Solar Decathlon with a formal withdrawal letter.
On Team Hawai‘i's webpage, an official statement read, "The University of Hawai‘i Solar Decathlon Team Executive Committee decided that the timing and financial challenges were too large to risk further investment without the guaranteed delivery of the house at this year's competition."
The team received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. DOE, but Rockwood explained that it still wasn't sufficient. "There were a number of factors that influenced what happened," explained Rockwood.
"We wanted something that sort of worked in a low-tech way. It used natural ventilation and natural lighting. We started with a basic idea and added the more advanced technical systems later," he said. "The design was also a little more challenging in terms of the skill of the students, and we really had to push to get everything together. With the timing of the competition, it was difficult to have the students highly involved.
And, of course, costs in Hawai‘i are much higher. Most of our materials had to be imported."
"I was really surprised that they got that grant," added Johnson. "Even if it wasn't enough, I think people recognize that something like this is worth fundraising for in the future."
Although Professor Rockwood remained optimistic when asked about any plans for the next competition, he stated that there are no guarantees that Team Hawai‘i will compete. "It has been talked about," he said, "but I don't know if there's a 100 percent commitment for going ahead in 2013. People were pretty disappointed we couldn't compete this year, but there is still a lot to be proud of. Our students received a lot of valuable real-world experience and lessons. The project has sparked effort across many different fields of study to generate ideas for cleaner technology. [The work of the project] is really something that should be continued."