This week we caught up with Derek Ouyang, ’13, Project Manager of Stanford’s first Solar Decathlon team.
How would you summarize Solar Decathlon in a sentence?
Solar Decathlon is an international competition to design the home of the future, and Stanford is going to win.
Who or what inspired you to start a Solar Decathlon team at Stanford?
Taylor Brady (’13) came up with the idea of putting together a Stanford proposal to compete last Spring. It didn’t make sense to us that Stanford has never competed in such an awesome competition. We submitted last November and received word from the U.S. Department of Energy this past January that we were one of 20 international teams selected to compete next October in Irvine, CA.
What kind of faculty / departmental support do you have? Where could you use more support?
We have support from almost every department in the School of Engineering and committed faculty advisors as well. We recently got the d.school on board in a major way, helping us move from an engineering design approach to a more human-centered approach. We are starting to get support from the Communications Department and Graduate Business School to help us with marketing and sponsorship, and could definitely use more talented students from these areas.
From a big picture perspective, what do you consider the greatest potential impact of a project like Solar Decathlon?
From the very beginning we knew that we didn’t want to create a cool showcase house just for the competition — we wanted to use this incredible opportunity to showcase a real industry-changing idea on an international stage. Our idea, called Start.Home, is a new kind of sustainable home module which can be mass-manufactured on an industrial scale and shipped all around the country to build the next generation of net-zero homes. We hope it’s an inspiration to industry, and already some of our supporters want us to build additional core modules for them — who knows, maybe it will become a business sooner than we think!
What has been the biggest challenge to the project so far?
Having 100+ people excited about the project is both a blessing and a curse — I spend nearly 40 hours a week just managing our huge team of at least a dozen subteams. But the point of this group is not to be exclusive — it’s really to reach out to our school and engage as many people as possible in sustainability education and an incredible hands-on design project. I just wish sometimes that we didn’t have to go to so many classes on the side.
What has most surprised you about the process?
I’ve been surprised by how much support we’ve gotten from various groups at Stanford and beyond. Sustainable Stanford, VPUE, and the Precourt Institute of Energy are major donors for our project. We were able to get a temporary construction site right by the Terman fountain from March to September of next year from Stanford, and two schools are looking to sponsor the home post-competition. Intel and Bosch are big corporate sponsors, and alumni have been incredibly supportive through donations and networking. We always thought that the idea of students building a net-zero home would interest the community, but we never expected this much feedback and energy. We can’t wait to see what happens once we finally break ground on campus in March! (more…)