Click to read about the best places to eat on campus, freshman packing tips, and how to keep in touch with friends.

USF to compete in national solar energy competition

USF will be among 20 schools in the nation to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon next year, with positions on the University’s team still available.

The University will join students from the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Central Florida to represent the state in the competition as “Team Florida.”

The biennial competition, which began in 2002, challenges 20 collegiate teams to create solar-powered homes that are “cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive,” according to its website. The winner of the competition is the team that “best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.”

Teams will have until fall 2011 to complete the homes and transport them to the Washington National Mall to be evaluated by experts in the fields of architecture, engineering and communications.

Christina Heath, a senior majoring in mass communications, is a member of Team Florida’s “Communications Team,” which will be judged on a created website that delivers the solar energy-efficient details of the project.

Heath said the team is still being compiled and will begin building the home in the spring.

“We just got briefed a week and a half ago,” she said. “Our goal would be just to prove that a solar-powered, cost-efficient home is possible and it can happen in the state of Florida.”

Team Florida’s house will be called the “Flex House.” The home, which must fit on the back of a flatbed truck, will be designed for a young, middle-class couple, will be able to sustain Florida’s humid climate and will include features like high-ceilings and sliding glass panels, she said.

Rebecca Hagen, a mass communications instructor and adviser for the communications team, said that Mario Rodriguez, a College of Architecture graduate student, first thought of this idea and applied for the competition.

“The whole idea generated out of (him and faculty) and they’re still in the process of recruiting students … people who want to go into building,” she said. “We’re kind of spear-heading this. They had to come up with something to enter into the competition to even see if you’re accepted. Once we’re accepted, then we have to put the team together.”

About 10 USF architecture students, five communications students and two students from other Florida universities have been recruited, but Heath said she expects those numbers to grow before the competition. The homes will be judged in 10 contests during the decathlon that will test them in areas like affordability and architecture.

“All we have to do right now is to look out (at) that disaster we have in the Gulf to understand why it’s important to start thinking of alternative energy sources,” Heath said. “We need to be serious about it. It’s (the government’s) way to try to educate the general public about solar energy. They’re encouraging college students to come up with solar-based home designs, and that is what we are doing.”