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Credit: Jean Anderson

Even Movie Night is a Competition at Solar Decathlon

Team Orange County hosts other students to demonstrate the livability and functionality of their solar house.
By Mary Ann Milbourn

What do college students do after a grueling week of 18-hour days first constructing and then operating a solar house? At the solar decathlon in Irvine, they have movie night.

But like everything else in the competition, movie night wasn’t just for fun. It was graded as part of the solar decathlon’s Home Life competition. It’s one of 10 categories each student team is judged on during the two-week event to show how well their solar house functions during normal home activities.

The 14 college teams voted for “Guardians of the Galaxy” as their movie night entertainment.

Each house had to host two team members from three other houses and up to two guests for the movie. Team Orange County hosted teams from California State University, Sacramento, Missouri’s Crowder College/Drury University and University of Texas/Germany.

For Team Orange County’s Geoffrey Mangalam, an Irvine Valley College sustainable agriculture student who is part of the team’s Home Life work group, it was not just movie night, but a chance to elevate the meaning of munchies.

“We want to show them we can have a nice time in a nice house,” said Mangalam, the designated chef, standing in the kitchen in front of an electric cooktop.

His menu: coconut date nut balls, fried flour tortillas with cinnamon sugar, Mexican hot chocolate and Vietnamese iced coffee.

While Mangalam worked in the kitchen, the students and guests settled in on the sofas and chairs in Team Orange County’s indoor/outdoor room, which includes a large retractable canopy that allows the cooler night air in.

The two Sacramento State students started some friendly competitive banter, declaring, “Everything works at the Sac State house.”

That prompted laughter because every solar house had its challenges — mostly with air conditioning in the 100-degree-plus weather.

Team Orange County also had other issues. Their custom-made power inverter, which converts between direct current and alternating current electricity, overheated just before the competition — the second one that has failed. After a scramble, they were able to get a working replacement.

During movie night, Teagan Barnes, a mechanical engineering student at the University of California, Irvine, had a quick huddle with Mangalam in the kitchen. She showed him a chart on her iPhone that indicated the refrigerator was running slightly warmer than the 34 to 40 degrees allowed in the rules and tried to figure out what the problem was.

As they wrapped up the evening, Alex McDonald, a UC Irvine mechanical engineering student and project manager, pronounced Team Orange County a success just for designing and building a solar house that functions.Other students worked behind the scenes monitoring other parts of the house’s energy use to keep it within the parameters of decathlon rules.

“I really think we’ve been successful at training the next generation of clean-tech leaders,” he said.

Edison International, parent company of Southern California Edison, and SCE donated a combined $400,000 to the solar decathlon and to support Team Orange County. The team is a joint effort of students from Chapman University, Irvine Valley College, Saddleback College and UC Irvine.

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