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Solar Competition Gives Tuskegee Students A Chance to Shine

Solar Competition Gives Tuskegee Students A Chance to Shine
By Ronald Roach

A group of Tuskegee University students majoring in architecture and engineering fields proved to the nation their resourcefulness and academic prowess in creating and building a home of the future.

Competing in the Solar Decathlon, a national contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Tuskegee team, under the supervision of academic advisers, assembled a solar energy-powered house on the national Mall in Washington, D.C.

The house, which cost nearly $189,000 in materials, construction and other expenses, had originally been constructed on the Tuskegee campus over the summer, but was disassembled in September so it could be transported to Washington. The completed energy efficient 800-square-foot house featured a Southern-style porch, breezeway, full bathroom and computer monitoring. “We got a great response from the public,” says Treylon Raines, a senior architecture major from Montgomery, Ala., who is part of the Tuskegee team.

The historically Black school was one of 14 institutions that built solar energy homes in the national competition. For 11 days this fall in Washington, thousands of people flocked to visit the entries in the Solar Decathlon. BP Solar, the American Institute of Architects, Electronic Data Systems and Home Depot were private-sector sponsors of the national competition.

“Some people said they were proud to see a Black school in the contest,” Raines notes.

Also competing were Auburn University, Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Colorado-Boulder, Crowder College, the University of Delaware, the University of Maryland, the University of Missouri-Rolla, the University of North Carolina-Charlotte, the University of Puerto Rico, the University of Texas, Texas A&M, the University of Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech).

Of the 14 schools in the competition, Tuskegee placed 11th overall. The University of Colorado team designed and built the winning entry. The goal of the Solar Decathlon was for teams to build solar-powered homes for average homeowners who are not interested in forgoing modern conveniences for an environmentally friendly dwelling, according to officials. “It pays for itself. You will be living free,” says Dr. Arunsi Chuku, a Tuskegee electrical engineering professor and one of the faculty coordinators of the team.

The house is now scheduled to be reassembled and permanently displayed on the Tuskegee campus. Raines and his fellow team members say the competition experience, which began in the fall of 2001, provided them a valuable learning experience. “I didn’t have any knowledge of solar energy homes and the issues around energy conservation before I got involved with designing and building the house,” Raines says.

Raines came up with one of the earliest designs for the house that was later modified by other architecture students and helped given shape by engineering students on the team. He adds that much of the learning came from collaborating with other architects and with engineers.

“That was the hard part. Working out disagreements and keeping everyone together wasn’t easy, but we figured it out,” Raines says.

Team members say the incorporation of a Southern-style porch into the house design gave their entry considerable uniqueness.

“This porch represents Southern architecture not found a lot in new homes. This competition will help Tuskegee’s construction department get the national recognition it deserves,” says Eric Bell, a junior construction science and management major from Jackson, Miss.

The competition’s emphasis on affordability led the Tuskegee team to try innovative construction techniques. “We’ve tried to stay with the standard and traditional construction materials as much as possible,” says Dr. Mike Safavi, an associate architecture professor and faculty adviser for construction. Tuskegee officials hope that the school’s participation in the competition will position the university to establish a research center in solar-wind hybrid energy sources for future home.

“Tuskegee University hopes to get more and more involved with solar energy, the energy of coming years,” Safavi adds.

The Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), the nation’s largest public power producer, supported the Tuskegee team during the past year with monetary donations and in-kind services, which includes engineering support and transportation of the house. TVA works with four HBCUs, including Tuskegee, to support development of minority engineers for TVA’s work force and American industry.

“Tuskegee University is a leader in African American graduates in the fields of chemical, electrical and mechanical engineering,” says TVA chairman Glenn McCullough Jr.

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