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Teaching The Engineering Of A House As A Whole System: The Uva Solar Decathlon Project

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2002 Annual Conference


Montreal, Canada

Publication Date

June 16, 2002

Start Date

June 16, 2002

End Date

June 19, 2002



Conference Session

Design Experiences in Energy Education

Page Count


Page Numbers

7.1102.1 - 7.1102.9



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Paper Authors

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Rosanne Simeone

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Dan Pearce

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P. Paxton Marshall

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Paxton Marshall, Dan Pearce, Rosanne Simeone University of Virginia, School of Engineering and Applied Science

[H]igher education…is divided into static, antique disciplines that actively work against badly needed interdisciplinary approaches to the most serious human problems.”

Paul R. Ehrlich, Human Natures: Genes, Cultures, and the Human Prospect, 2000, p. 325 [1]


Teaching a "whole systems design" approach to energy conservation is complicated by the inherently multidisciplinary nature of the activity. Because universities are organized around disciplines and sharp areas of expertise, interdisciplinary instructional programs are notoriously difficult to create and manage. Furthermore, the academic reward system provides few incentives for faculty to invest the substantial effort required by team design projects. The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Solar Decathlon contest has offered a strong motivation to overcome the obstacles. The University of Virginia (UVA) Solar Decathlon Team, jointly sponsored by the School of Architecture and the School of Engineering and Applied Science, consists of a group of students from several engineering disciplines and architecture working together to design and build a solar-powered house. The 800-square foot, fully functional house will publicly demonstrate the effectiveness and benefits of solar energy, energy efficiency, and technological innovation. The design process has focused on sustainable building through the use of passive solar design, "green" building materials, photovoltaic generation and energy efficiency technologies. The team has been accepted as one of fourteen university teams competing in the 2002 Solar Decathlon.

The faculty advisors from engineering and architecture have used a combination of existing and special topics courses to provide the student members with needed disciplinary background for the project. The UVA engineering school's undergraduate thesis requirement and the capstone design requirements of the engineering programs provide additional vehicles for integrating student efforts on a team design project. Through the project, students obtain a far more integrated experience of "real-world" energy systems design than could be obtained from traditional disciplinary classroom instruction. In addition students gain practical experience in communication, fundraising, budgeting, and project management activities that are essential to successful engineering and architectural practice but often get neglected in analysis-heavy curricula.


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Simeone, R., & Pearce, D., & Marshall, P. P. (2002, June), Teaching The Engineering Of A House As A Whole System: The Uva Solar Decathlon Project Paper presented at 2002 Annual Conference, Montreal, Canada. 10.18260/1-2--10147

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