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The Scarlet & Black

Grinnell Solar Decathlon rays the roof

By Darwin Manning

A new green movement has been started on campus. Ben Mothershead ’16 has started a team at Grinnell to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon.

The project was started in 2002 through the Department of Energy (DOE) and has been held in Washington, D.C. The competition gives collegiate teams the chance to design, build and operate solar-powered houses.

This year’s event will take place October 3 to 13 in Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. According to the DOE, the purpose of this program is to educate students and the public about money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions.

Mothershead wanted to bring the activity to Grinnell after attending past Solar Decathlons in Washington, D.C. and seeing very few small liberal arts colleges in attendance. He spoke extensively to the team from Middlebury College and was interested by their unique position as a sort of underdog against the many immense engineering schools.

The Middlebury team has volunteered to lend their support to Grinnell. Their project manager, Jack Kerby-Miller, a third-year Chemistry and Environmental Studies double major, has invited the Grinnell team to visit Middlebury. Additionally, he offered his guidance for the project they completed in August.

Given Middlebury’s success—finishing fourth in the last competition—Mothershead gained confidence that this was something worth trying.

“I heard about the one in Middlebury and I thought ‘why can’t we do this?’” Mothershead said. “We are a small school that will be going up against some large engineering schools, but at the same time we have a lot of the resources to do something like this.”

The first step for the competition is to present preliminary plans in July. Once approved, the team will receive funding in August. Each college and university is rewarded with $10,000 as their project advances to the next round over the course of two rounds from the DOE.

Thus far, Mothershead has received support from 40 students and Jonathan Andelson, Anthropology. Additionally, he hosted an informational meeting Wednesday at 8 p.m. in Noyce 2022 and plans to ask Kington for the College’s support next week.

Mothershead’s goal is to reach out to as many facets of campus as possible. There are also plans to reach out to Alumni Relations and the Office of Admissions.

While Mothershead hopes to get a lot of support from the College financially, he is also looking at resources beyond just the institution.

“I will speak with Kington to see if the College can lend support,” he said. “Fundraising will be the largest thing, but it doesn’t have to come from just the College’s budget.”

The Grinnell team has already received a generous donation from corporate sponsors to purchase Asana, a computer program. They also hope to receive funding from SGA to get laptops.

“Learning the design software will be crucial; we have to do the majority of the work, but I think we are very adaptive,” Mothershead said. “Grinnell students have really good research abilities, to gather information and synthesize.”

Mothershead believes that after conducting the informational meeting, other students will become interested. He looks forward to seeing how students from different majors bring together their skills and create a competitive entry for the competition.

“Basically, what I’m trying to say is that anyone can help. But right now we mostly need leadership, in order to coordinate everything else for the project to progress,” Mothershead said.

For those looking to get involved, email [solardec] or visit their Facebook account, GrinnellSD15.

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    John VincentApr 18, 2013 at 1:23 am

    For a typical larger home, the homeowner would save far more than $200,000 over the life of a solar powered home. Additionally, the $890 ($10,680 per year) electricity bill would require you to save an additional $267,000 for retirement (based on a 4% withdrawal rate from your retirement fund).