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Tufts and the Solar Decathlon

When Matthew Thoms set out to be an engineer, he would have been hard-pressed to predict that part of his education was going to involve doing laundry in the shadow of the Washington Monument. But that is exactly what he will have to do when the Solar Decathlon's Team Boston is put through its paces in the nation's capital during the first three weeks of October. They will not only wash clothes, but cook meals, entertain guests, shower, and take out the trash. Put differently, they will be called on to demonstrate how their creation handles the tasks of quotidian life-and the energy consumed in doing the chores will be meticulously measured and compared to what their temporary neighbors on the Mall are able to accomplish.

Tufts is making its debut this year in the fourth biennial Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). Together, with collaborators at the Boston Architectural College, Tufts students (and some faculty advisors) are part of Team Boston, a group of entrepreneurial, design-savvy, and environmentally aware practical idealists who are putting their concerns about ecologically sound living to the test by creating a highly energy-efficient house.

The National Renewable Energy Laboratories (NREL), which is part of the DOE, chooses 20 teams from around the world and gives them each $100,000 to get started. They then have almost two years to erect a fully functioning prototype of an 800-square-foot dwelling on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Each house will be judged on 10 distinct criteria, such as comfort, lighting design, hot water, architecture, and engineering.

The goal for every entry is to show that it can average out to be a net zero consumer of externally supplied energy. In addition to meeting the energy-use requirements, Team Boston has set itself a goal of creating a house that is affordable for low- to middle-income buyers. Antje Danielson, program manager of the Tufts Institute of the Environment, is playing a coordinating and mentoring role in the project.

Something that sets Team Boston apart, said Danielson, is the inclusion of policy-oriented students from the Tufts Department of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. They are focused on "assessing the larger impacts of the house on the green building market," said Danielson.

How you can help:

The 2009 Solar Decathlon team is trying to raise $750,000 in cash support and material donations.

  • Your gift of $25,000 underwrites a lecture series for students and the public.
  • Your gift of $30,000 furnishes the house exhibit on the Washington Mall.
  • Your gift of $75,000 provides team members with lodging, meals, and transportation to Washington, D.C., for the assembly, competition, and disassembly.
  • Your gift of $200,000 provides materials for the construction of the Team Boston house.
For more information, please contact:
Catharine M. de Lacy
Senior Director of Development
School of Engineering