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March 4, 2020

Students from UW-Madison, UW-Milwaukee team up for solar decathlon

Written By: Kathy Quirk


UPDATE March 24, 2020: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero Solar Decathlon Competition will now be conducted remotely.

An energy competition team that includes students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UW-Milwaukee has been selected as a finalist in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Race to Zero Solar Decathlon Competition.

The competition was originally set for April 17-19 in Golden, Colorado, but now will be conducted digitally because of the coronavirus travel and gathering restrictions, according to Mark Keane, a professor of architecture who is working with the students from the UW-Milwaukee School of Architecture and Urban Planning.

Verona net zero house plans
A rendering of the team’s craftsman house designed for Verona, Wisconsin. Submitted image.

The Studio Zer0 team includes eight mechanical engineering students from UW-Madison, advised by Mike Cheadle, a mechanical engineering lecturer at UW-Madison, and 13 architecture students from UW-Milwaukee. For the first time, the team is partnering with three clients who will actually build the models on three different sites across Wisconsin. Students from Madison Area Technical College will join the team to help build the house.

The goal of the competition is to create sustainable homes that fight climate change by reducing energy consumption. The students focused on creating a 1,200-square-foot base model suited to the climate of the upper Midwest. The model can be customized and expanded with a kit of parts. The team chose a modern farmhouse and arts and crafts styles using best practices for zero net energy.

The houses will be built in Verona, Jackson County and in Osceola. The Osceola house will be part of the Community Homestead, and will provide independent living in a farm setting for four special needs young adults.

The architecture students, who are working together in a studio class, looked at how to site the house to take advantage of natural light and sun, and are creating a well-insulated “envelope” using cost-effective structural insulated panels. At the same time, the design has to allow for good ventilation for comfort and remain durable for decades in Wisconsin’s harsh environment. The UW-Madison engineering students are working to develop the most energy-efficient heating and lighting systems using solar panels with backup heat sources and energy-efficient appliances.

For the competition, the students will video record themselves on stage presenting a PowerPoint that will have a virtual reality film embedded. The goal is for the speakers to present diagrams, then the large-scale model on stage, then move into a virtual reality walkthrough of the interior spaces.

This is the fifth year the two universities have teamed up for the competition. Keane says the collaboration is a good learning experience for both the architecture and engineering students on the team, giving both groups a chance to learn more about the other profession’s approach to saving energy.