Penn State's Solar Decathlon Team prepares for spring competition


By Megan Lantz

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Penn State’s Solar Decathlon team, previously called the Race to Zero team, is now officially recognized by Penn State and is gearing up for the annual competition this spring.

This year, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has merged two competitions, the Solar Decathlon and the Race to Zero, into one: The Solar Decathlon Competition.

The Race to Zero Competition occurred annually from 2014-2018 and was designed to challenge teams to create affordable, market-ready designs. The goal of this competition was to encourage students to become professionals in the field through hands-on opportunities and participation in a design challenge, which required teams to construct zero-energy ready buildings, according to the DOE.

The new Solar Decathlon Competition strives to challenge participants to design and construct high performance buildings that will be powered by renewable energy. This will be accomplished through two challenges within the competition: the design challenge (formerly the Race to Zero) and the build challenge. The design challenge occurs annually and the build challenge occurs biennially.

“Our overall goal is … to provide an opportunity for our students to learn new knowledge and understanding about the design of high-performance homes –single family and also multi-family,” said Ali Memari, professor and Bernard and Henrietta Hankin Chair in Residential Building Construction. “The process of taking part in the competition involves learning some new technical subjects, but mainly drawing from the course materials and basic knowledge they have already acquired, but now they need to channel and apply that knowledge toward the design of a high-performance residential building.”

The objectives, Memari said, include designing homes for energy efficiency, sustainability, durability, health, environment, resiliency, affordability, comfort and other criteria, that together will yield a high-performance building.

This year’s competition will take place April 12-14 in Golden, Colorado at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory where the Penn State Solar Decathlon Team will compete in the design portion of the competition.

The team hopes to educate its students by aiding in design creations built to support the future of the planet and its communities. They accomplish this by working with local community partners such as S&A Homes and, currently, Habitat for Humanity. While working with Habitat for Humanity, the team will have the opportunity to design and potentially construct a zero-energy ready home for a family in need.

Neno Agnello, a third-year architectural engineering student and team manager expressed his goals for the competition.

As a team, Agnello said, they would be overjoyed to win the competition, but the most important thing is helping out their industry partner. Previously, while working with S&A homes, the team was able to suggest updates to some of their processes and recommend more efficient methods of doing things. S&A ended up implementing many of their recommendations. This year they look forward to helping out Habitat for Humanity in the same way.

“In the end, we’re working to help the community, not to just win the competition,” Agnello said.

When considering the team’s preparedness, Agnello says, “There’s definitely a lot of work to do, but … I think we’re at a better spot this year than we were last year.”

In last year’s Race to Zero competition, the team took first place in the Suburban-Single Family Housing section while working with S&A Homes. The team hopes to accomplish this victory again this year.

There are currently around 20 members on the team, which meets weekly, but anyone is welcome to join.

“We really value having an integrated design process, so having input from people in a lot of different majors is always really beneficial,” said Carly Asadi, a third-year architectural engineering student.

They add that being a team member is a good resume builder and allows for more hands-on opportunities not provided in classrooms.

To learn more about the Solar Decathlon Team, contact Blaise Waligun at .


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Megan Lantz 

Jennifer Matthews 



The Penn State Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, established in 1881, is internationally recognized for excellence in the preparation of undergraduate and graduate engineers through the integration of education, research, and leadership.

Department of Civil & Environmental Engineering

212 Sackett Building

The Pennsylvania State University

University Park, PA 16802-1408

Phone: 814-863-3084