There are a lot of "firsts" for this year's national collegiate Solar Decathlon: It's the first time four teams from California are participating. It's the first time Stanford University and University of Southern California are giving the clean-energy competition a whirl. And yes, it's the first time a team from Santa Clara University built a solar dog house that they hope will be visited by Gov. Jerry Brown's dog.
The dog house, called the Ruff House, is made of bamboo, scrap plywood and stands 47 inches tall. And the Santa Clara University students are just hoping Brown's dog, Sutter, will pay the energy-efficient home a visit this week in Irvine, where the Solar Decathlon is being held Thursday to Oct. 13.
Plus, the Santa Clara University students also created a YouTube video invitation inviting the governor to visit their energy-efficient "Radiant House," including a way to turn on and off the blinds, windows and lights with a smartphone and use water as a heater and cooler.
So far, the governor and his pup have yet to RSVP.
Still, the sixth U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon will get underway Thursday at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, and is open to the public free of charge. Twenty international teams this year from Arizona State University to Czech Technical University are all vying to win first place in building the best solar-powered house. And another first: It's the first time the decathlon is being held in California.
The purpose of this event - first started in 2002 and held every two years - is to educate students and the public about the money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions, among other alternative energy-efficient things. There is no prize money, but most of the students who win find jobs. The Dept. of Energy says 76 percent of former participants landed jobs with clean-energy companies after graduation.
The contest rules require that homes can't be larger than 1,000 square feet and must produce at least as much energy as they consume over a week.
Santa Clara University has come in third both times students participated in 2007 and 2009, but many are saying that Stanford is the team to watch out for this year. The LA Times called Stanford the "Bruce Jenner" of this decathlon because of its engineering prowess. The home Stanford built is modeled after a car, and like, Santa Clara University's, a mobile app controls most home functions.