By Shawn Chitnis


GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4)– Students at the Colorado School of Mines working with two other universities abroad built and designed the winning model house in the 2019 Solar Decathlon Africa on Friday. The Mines beat out more than a dozen other teams from around the world.

Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon competition (credit: Colorado School of Mines)

“It was incredible, I woke up at 3 a.m. to watch the results,” said Katie Schneider, a graduate student and the team leader. “We are so proud, we’ve come a long way, it’s been a very long road.”

Katie Schneider Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

Katie Schneider (credit: CBS)

Schneider and her classmates worked with students from Cadi Ayyad University and the National School of Architecture in Marrakech, Morocco. Those schools are located about an hour away from the city of Ben Guerir, where the competition started with judging running from Sept. 13 – 27. The team named their project the InterHouse to reflect the global makeup of the team. The winning design was a mix of modern technology with Moroccan architecture. The challenge required them to design and build an affordable, solar-powered net-zero-energy model house on site. The house needed to be adapted to the North African climate and location. Their house remains on a solar village at the university in the city.

Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon competition (credit: Colorado School of Mines)

“It didn’t really get real until we got to Morocco,” said Christian Amundson, a junior studying electrical engineering student. “It’s completely different, you have no name brand stores, you go to some hardware store that on the corner on some random unmarked street hoping you can find what you’re looking for.”

Christian Amundson Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

Christian Amundson (credit: CBS)

Amundson was the construction manager for the competition and spent a month in Morocco to build the house. The physical distance and time difference complicated the challenge, along with a language barrier.

Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon competition (credit: Colorado School of Mines)

The project began on campus and then materials had to travel to Morocco. But once they were on the ground, their ability to collaborate increased greatly. That phase of the challenge in August overlapped with the start of classes back in Colorado for the new term. He and the other members of the team learned about their win early in the morning as the announcement came from Morocco during the middle of their day.

Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon competition (credit: Colorado School of Mines)

“It was crazy, it is honestly so awesome to see the culmination of all our work,” he said. “We really need to reach a point where sustainability is a primary goal.”

For all the students working on this project, they hope it can encourage more exploration into building in a more efficient way that helps everyone and the planet. The methods used can become cheaper alternatives in the long run and they will use energy sources that are healthier for humans and the climate.

“We live in a finite world with finite resources,” said John McDowell, a senior studying mechanical engineering at Mines. “If you bring it all together, you can make a really big impact.”

John McDowell Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

John McDowell (credit: CBS)

McDowell was the design lead for the waste water system. He had to crunch the numbers on the size of the pumps and pipes as well as determine the capacity for the tanks. One reason why the project and the house can be model not just for the schools studying this subject but the public as a whole, the entire home uses energy efficient technology, as required by the competition.

“The house can be really self-sufficient and have very little demands on the outside world,” he said. “It’s really neat to be able to see that.”

Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

(credit: CBS)

Schneider was an undergraduate at Mines and now continues her studies on campus in mechanical engineering. She says another important value from this project is the collaboration that came from different countries with different cultures. She says friendships and partnerships will remain well after their victory.

“It’s important to bring countries like the United States and Morocco together,” she said. “Not only are we learning from each other’s cultures, but we’re able to share resources now.”

Colorado School of Mines Solar Decathlon

The Solar Decathlon competition (credit: Colorado School of Mines)

Students at Mines can keep track of the data collected from the model house to continue their research. They hope the home will be an educational resource for students in Morocco and the people who live there. The team won $150,000 as the top team in the event, they plan to use that money to help pay for expenses and support future students competing in the Solar Decathlon on their campus.

“It’s not only an American mission or a Colorado School of Mines mission but we want it to be global,” Schneider said.

COMPETITION: https://www.solardecathlonafrica.com/

MINES TEAM: https://www.solardecathlonafrica.com/participating-teams/team-interhouse/

Shawn Chitnis

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