Solar Decathlon squad prepares to begin tests in advance of fall competition.

OC Register
BY Sarah de Crescenzo/Staff Writer

IRVINE - Nearly two dozen college students and recent graduates who will represent Orange County in the upcoming Solar Decathlon competition jumped to their feet Tuesday morning as if a rock star had pulled into the parking lot.

Richard King, founder of the U.S. Department of Energy competition, made an unscheduled stop to visit with Team Orange at its at Irvine Valley College construction site and see the modules that will make up the team's solar house.

"I can feel their energy," he said after chatting with team members, some of whom have been working on the project for more than a year.

For the competition, teams of students design, build and operate an energy-efficient, affordable and attractive solar house. The first of the components of the house were delivered Tuesday to the Irvine college on flatbed trucks, turning blueprints into reality for the students and recent graduates.

Fifteen teams will compete in the Solar Decathlon in October. It's the first time Orange County has sent a team since the initial Solar Decathlon was held in 2002 in Washington, D.C.

This year, the homes will be built at the Great Park's festival site, where Cirque du Soleil has held performances, rather than on the runways, which are being torn up as part of Five Point Communities' development of the central 688 acres of the park.

Instead of two long rows of homes, the buildings will be clustered together.

King's stop provided an unexpected burst of excitement to Team Orange, a collaboration among four Orange County schools: UC Irvine, Chapman University, Saddleback College and Irvine Valley College.

The design for the team's house, Casa del Sol, shows the building will have two adjacent units: a two-bedroom living space and, across a narrow, shaded breezeway, a studio.

Recent UCI graduate Andy Truong is heading the project's construction management and plumbing teams. The challenge during planning was taking the students' wildest ideas - "at the beginning, it was let your imagination fly" - and deciding which were feasible, he said.

The target audience for Casa del Sol is a multi-generation household, said Truong, 22. That could include grandparents, in-laws or "boomerang" children - young adults who return home after college, he said.

Saddleback College student Paige Svehlak, 23, was a full-time student working two jobs when she heard about the Solar Decathlon. The aspiring interior designer was tempted to get involved, but initially passed on it. About eighth months ago she decided to quit working to devote her time to the project.

The Irvine native heads up the team's interior architecture group...

If you go

What: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
Where: Orange County Great Park, Irvine
When: Open to the public 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 8-11 and Oct. 15-18