First Light team comes out tops in engineering contest of Solar Decathlon competition

Years of hard work for Victoria University’s First Light team, competing in the prestigious US department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition — the first team from the Southern Hemisphere to do so — is beginning to pay off as results from the competition begin to trickle through. Made up of 10 contests and featuring 19 teams, the First Light team has so far taken out first place in the engineering contest and second in the architecture. 

Commenting on the team’s engineering triumph, engineering contest juror Dr. Hunter Fanney said: 

“The New Zealand house was beautifully executed, with extreme attention to detail and craftsmanship and an intuitive tree-ring visualization system, which makes it easy to understand energy use throughout the house.” 

Richard King, Solar Decathlon director, said the engineering contest is a vital component to winning the overall competition. 

“The key to winning the Solar Decathlon is getting the house to perform well in the measured contests, which account for half of the points available,” he said. “The best-performing house is a well-engineered house, which is why the Engineering Contest is so important.” 

The engineering contest was evaluated on the following five key principles: 

• Functionality – To ensure the energy and HVAC systems function as intended

• Efficiency – To measure how much energy the house would save over the course of a year relative to using conventional systems

• Innovation – To gauge the design solutions and their true market potential

• Reliability – To assess the systems and how well they operate at a high level of performance

• Documentation – By reviewing drawings, a project manual, and an audiovisual engineering presentation that accurately reflect the project as constructed on the competition site. 

In the architcture contest, the First Light house was pipped to the top by the University of Maryland’s WaterShed house. Third place went to Appalachian State University for its Soalr Homestead. 

“This year’s teams have managed to raise the bar even higher and have made the job of judging the Architecture Contest extremely difficult for the jury, which tried to find the subtle distinction that separates first from second, and second from third,” said architecture contest judge Michelle Kaufmann. “The top three projects span the globe; each celebrating its unique regional influences and climatic differences.” 

The architecture contest was evaluated on: 

Architectural elements that include the scale and proportion of room and facade features, indoor/outdoor connections, composition and linking of various house elements

Holistic design, meaning an architectural design that will be comfortable for occupants and compatible with the surrounding environment

Lighting, assessing the integration and energy efficiency of electrical and natural light

Inspiration as reflected in a design that inspires and delights Solar Decathlon visitors

Documentation that includes drawings, a project manual, and an audiovisual architecture presentation that accurately reflect the constructed project on the competition site.