UW team takes fourth in solar house design competition

    (Lander, WY) – A University of Wyoming student team’s entry has finished fourth in an international competition to design zero-energy buildings.

    The solar-powered home in the foothills of Wyoming’s Wind River Mountains was part of the 2023 U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) 20th annual Solar Decathlon Build Challenge, which concluded Sunday at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colo.

    With a final score of 796.85 points, UW finished behind Ball State University (847.82), the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay (846.45) and the University of British Columbia (824.28) but ahead of schools including the University of Kansas, the University of Illinois, Brigham Young University, the University of Colorado and Texas A&M University.


    “What a successful project for UW. We’re thrilled to place so highly in an international competition. It’s a great credit to our hard-working, enthusiastic students, our outstanding faculty and a tremendous partnership with the builder,” says Anthony “Tony” Denzer, a professor and department head of UW’s Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management. “Moreover, this was not a vanity project, but a real market-ready home with the goal of introducing the zero-energy concept to Wyoming homebuyers.”

    While UW’s entry was fourth overall, it placed first in the “Comfort and Environmental Quality” category; tied for first in the “Energy Performance” and “Occupant Experience” categories; and was third in the “Embodied Environmental Impact” category.

    “This project provided a significant international exposure to our students and the university during the final competition event held at NREL,” says Dhawal Jain, an assistant lecturer in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management, and one of the project advisers. “We hope to use this momentum toward working on several industry-partnered projects in the future and expose students to a realm of possibilities in the field of architecture, engineering and construction.

    “Our aim is to attract the best students from across the world for our program at UW and prepare those students for the rapidly changing dynamics of the industry,” Jain continues. “The Wind River home will serve as a model to educate students as well as Wyoming residents in the years to come, through what is learned during and after the project.”


    Members of the UW student team, listed by hometown, were:

    Aurora, Colo. — Keelie Wortmann.

    Casper — Travis Wicks.


    Cheyenne — Sam Spiker.

    Durango, Colo. — Erin Christiansen.

    Gillette — Brenna Jones.


    Green River — Erika Ferrell.

    Ibadan, Nigeria — Emmanuel Iddio.

    Lander — Nick Kulow.

    Pueblo, Colo. — Alison Carlo and Colton McClure.

    Reading, Pa. — Brit Bardman.

    Students designed the UW Solar Decathlon Build Challenge house in a “minimal mountain modern” style. It has a super-insulated and air-tight envelope; advanced heating systems, including a heat pump and radiant floors; green building materials; and a large array of solar panels to ensure the home will produce more energy than it consumes on an annual basis. It is being built by Timshel Construction, led by UW alumnus Cory Toye, who is collaborating directly with the student design team.

    The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home, on its 6-acre lot, will be made available for sale. It’s located 10 miles southwest of Lander and overlooking Red Canyon.

    “This competition provided a unique opportunity for students to learn, teach and network with those committed to changing the impact of our way of life,” says Aysegul “Aysha” Demir, an assistant instructional professor in the Department of Civil and Architectural Engineering and Construction Management. “Imagine receiving awards from U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary David Turk and the director of NREL, Martin Keller. Our students will never forget that moment and talk about it proudly. Our hope is that these students will continue to be part of Wyoming’s future decisions on clean energy and strategies to lessen the burden of climate change for their communities.”


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