The University of Tennessee is successful in many athletic competitions.
Now a UT academic team is one of just 20 in the world selected to compete in the Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon.
Over three semesters, dozens of students from different disciplines collaborated on a UT Zero Energy House in the middle of campus.
"Just having that expertise and that point of view from the different students from the different colleges, chemical engineers to graphic designers, there's just a lot we can learn from each other, and it's been really great," architecture graduate student Megan Chafin said.
UT Architecture Professor James Rose explained, "So there was one class designing the building, another class detailing the prototype, and a third class that actually constructed the prototype."
The 240-square foot cube features a double facade system. It's a kind of energy buffer zone with a sliding door separating it from the main living space.
"There is a south facing glazed area that acts as either a space that will heat the house -- we can take the sun's energy and use that to heat the interior -- or we can close that off from the rest of the space and ventilate it to prevent that space from getting hotter," Rose said.
The prototype was a critical element in earning a spot in the Solar Decathlon.
"Technology we tested here will go to the next level," UT Architecture Professor Edgar Stach said.
Next, UT students will design, build, and operate a solar powered house about 4 times the size of the prototype.
They'll take the Living Light House to the Solar Decathlon on the Washington Mall next year.
"I can't wait to see it built on the Mall," Megan Chafin said.
It will be one of 20 designed by college students across the globe.
"All the houses on the Mall will be completely off the grid," Rose said. "In fact, most will be able to produce more power than they use."
Earning one of the 20 spots in the Solar Decathlon means sunny days ahead for energy efficient living as well as prestige for UT.
"We are Team Tennessee, and we are from Tennessee, and we want to promote Tennessee, and we want to do that with all our heart and all we have," Edgar Stach said.
The team must come up with funding for their entry, probably at least $350,000. Companies donated material for the prototype and team members hope that will be the case with the final project as well.
Solar Decathlon participants will face a series of ten competitions on the Mall during several weeks in fall 2011.