Students seek funding for solar competition

Though their designs are meant to save money, a group of USF students will be unable to bring their solar-powered FLeX House to fruition unless they receive more money from donors.

The students are part of Team Florida, a team of students from USF, the University of Florida, Florida State University and the University of Central Florida that will be competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon – a competition between 20 collegiate teams to “design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive,” according to its website.

Christina Heath, a senior majoring in communications and a member of Team Florida’s USF Communication Team, said the team needs $250,000 to be able to participate in the competition scheduled for the fall 2011. She said they are currently looking to outside donors and local energy companies such as Florida Power and Light to help secure the money.

Heath said the team will not know how much money they have raised since they first began fundraising until their next meeting, which will be held “in a few weeks.”

According to USF News, various sponsor packages through the teams website,, range in price from $20 to $100,000.

Team Florida is comprised of four branches – architecture, engineering, interior design and communications. The communications team was required by the decathlon to create a website providing information on its respective solar house design, which is being finalized, and offering a quick way for sponsors to make donations to the team.

Heath said the FLeX House is a modular building system that is designed to adapt to Florida’s climate, especially heat and humidity.

Jacob Moberg, a team member and graduate student majoring in chemical engineering, said the house is also designed to lower operating costs of utilities such as water and electricity, by conserving water and energy. No energy grid, which is used to store electricity, will be used in the house, he said.

Moberg said this will be overcome through “smart appliances that will reduce spikes” of energy, such as during the winter months when a heater may be running more frequently.

According to the decathlon website, the house will include sliding glass panels that open into a central courtyard, high ceilings that allow warmer air to rise and keep the floor level cool, a solar chimney with operable vents and a solar-thermal system that provides hot water and reduces energy consumption for the heat pump.

Apart from finding funding for their project, student Team Leader Mario Rodriguez, a graduate student majoring in architecture, said one of the biggest challenges facing the team as they prepare for the competition will be keeping all of the members on the same page.

Rodriguez said the student and faculty members on the team are communicating through e-mail, video communications such as Skype, and DropBox – an online file sharing service.

Moberg said the FLeX House has allowed three main disciplines’ to come together to collaborate on one project.

“You have the architecture-physical design, the engineering dealing with the technical aspect and Financing dealing with marketing and appeal,” he said.

During the competition, teams from all over the country will be evaluated on the structure of their house and how energy efficient it is. In order to win they need to make their house “affordable, appeal to consumers, and the design has to be energy efficient,” according to the website.

If the committee is able to raise enough money, the house will be constructed and transported to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where the competition will occur in the spring. The house will run through 10 contests that will test aspects of the home, such as its affordability and architecture.

After the competition, Heath said the house will be brought back to USF and converted into a learning center, since USF is the university that initiated the project in 2008.

“It’s going to be there to give back to the community,” she said. “Not monetarily, but as a center for the community. There will be tours and students can come in as well to see what we are doing and learn about the interior design, the engineering and keeping the house going and operable. The house will also achieve (Team Florida’s) goal of educating the public about energy-efficient, environmentally friendly buildings and renewable energy sources.”

– Additional reporting by Anastasia Dawson