The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

January 14, 2013

Team ready to build solar-powered, log home

MORGANTOWN — Within a month, West Virginia University students competing in the 2013 Solar Decathlon will be truly put to the test.

On property near the Student Recreation Center on the Evansdale campus, they will start piecing together a solar-powered, log home.

Through October, they will tear down the house and rebuild it, again and again.

Think of it as Legos, only bigger and more complex, said Kenneth Hite, a graduate electrical engineering student spearheading the project.

“It allows time for errors and will give us time to perfect it,” Hite said. “We’ll put it together a few times like Legos, and we’re going to make mistakes. We’d rather make those mistakes here than in California.”

The Decathlon, a collegiate design-and-build competition among 20 international teams, is slated for Oct. 3-13 at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Each team will strive for one thing — to design, build and operate the most affordable, attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house.

The WVU team recently got the green light to start building the home after the United States Department of Energy, which hosts the Decathlon, approved its design documents. The WVU team consists of about 50 students across multiple disciplines, which include the Benjamin M. Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources, the College of Creative Arts, the Davis College of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Design, the Perley Isaac Reed School of Journalism and the College of Business & Economics.

The team hopes that practice will make perfect come competition time in California, where the construction and design of the house really matters.

“We want to do as many practice runs as possible,” said Branden Bellanca, team student project leader and computer engineering major. “In California, we’ll have only seven days to build it.”

The WVU house is the first log-style home accepted into the Decathlon.

The log home will include solar panels and rely on natural resources to control temperature.

Students are even developing an app that will allow them to control temperature, lighting and other systems in the home from a mobile or electronic device.

“We’ll be able to monitor which lights are on and how much power is consumed,” said Tyler Steele, a computer engineering student. “A biometric system will be included to control the locks in the home.”

The Department of Energy is providing each team with a $100,000 grant. Teams can also raise their own money for the project.

That’s where Stephen Rebinski and other business students come into play. Rebinski helps with the fundraising aspect of the project, whether it involves meeting with CEOs of companies or sending e-mails to alumni.

This work has helped sharpen his communication skills with a diverse selection of people.

“As a public accountant, you talk to a lot of different clients and industries,” Rebinski said. “People in different industries have their own different languages. I’ve learned to communicate with professionals and students. Engineers talk differently than business students, but you can still collaborate.”

Donations are tax-deductible. Anyone wishing to contribute to the project can contact Rebinksi at

WVU students also are reaching across international borders to collaborate on the project. Students in Morgantown are working with representatives from the University of Rome Tor Vergata, which has a research agreement with WVU.

Faculty advisors are Dimitris Korakakis, faculty project principal investigator; LaRue Williams, faculty project manager; and Vincenzo Mulone and Stefano Cordiner, both University of Rome faculty principal investigators.

According to the Department of Energy, the winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009 and 2011.


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