Friday, Oct. 25, 2013 | 2 a.m.
A second-place finish earlier this month in the international Solar Decathlon has boosted the academic prestige of UNLV’s solar energy program and the university at large, according to university officials.
The successful showing at the Solar Decathlon will help propel UNLVs Tier-1 research status aspirations, attracting even more prestige, research and faculty to the university, said Tom Piechota, UNLV’s interim vice president of research.
“People are taking notice of what we’re doing in this area,” Piechota said. “UNLV is doing cutting-edge research in renewable energy, and that’s an important part of advancing our Tier-1 initiative.”
Two years ago, UNLV was chosen by the U.S. Department of Energy to participate in the Solar Decathlon, an international competition that challenges 20 universities to design and build a house powered entirely by the sun.
A team of more than 60 UNLV engineering, architecture and communications students worked on the solar house. Dubbed DesertSol, UNLV’s 700-square-foot home features modern-looking rooms, heated flooring, a “mesquite tree” shade structure, a water fountain and several large solar panels.
"Everyone at UNLV is incredibly proud of our Solar Decathlon team,” UNLV President Neal Smatresk said in a statement. “They took what they learned in class and did something truly amazing with it. You could say they learned both in the ivory tower and the school of hard knocks. To be second place in the world in such a highly competitive contest is a real tribute to these highly motivated students and their terrific mentors.”
Team Las Vegas won second place behind Team Austria, from the Vienna University of Technology. UNLV was the only American team that placed in the top three colleges, beating out prestigious U.S. universities such as Stanford, Southern California and North Carolina-Charlotte.
“I’m incredibly proud of our students,” Piechota said. “They worked hard, spent a lot of time and put a lot of passion and dedication into it. It’s a life-changing and life-learning experience. We’re very proud of them.”
DesertSol will be displayed at the Springs Preserve, where community members can learn about sustainable and environmentally friendly design. Piechota said UNLV hoped to continue learning about solar technology and energy efficiency from the house, and build new solar projects through collaborations between the university’s different disciplines and colleges.
In 2009, UNLV — with the help of NV Energy — launched a solar and renewable energy minor degree program. In the subsequent four years, the program spurred and built upon several solar and renewable energy projects at UNLV, including the development of a fuel-cell electric car and hydrogen filling stations, as well as home windows and skylights that generate solar power.
“Renewable energy is always going to be a strategic priority for the university,” Piechota said. “It’s important for the economic development in this state to attract new companies, develop new power plants and support the workforce.”
In April, a team of UNLV business students qualified as one of only four teams in the CFA Institute Research Challenge in London. UNLV earned the trip to London after being named Americas Regional Final Champions from a field of 350 universities in North, South and Central America. The global competition tests student teams on their ability to value a stock, write an initiation-of-coverage report and present their recommendations.
“Within the past year, the incredible success of our student financial advising team and now the Solar Decathlon team proves that UNLV is a world-class institution, that our students can hold their own in global competition, and that we're delivering a globally competitive education," Smatresk said.