CLEMSON — About 150 Clemson University students are in training for a decathalon that could mean more to the future than any athletic event.
It has nothing to do with running or jumping or throwing a discus.
The 10 competitions they're hoping to win have to do with building the best totally solar-powered house of any college team in the nation.
Clemson was one of 20 universities chosen to participate in the Solar Decathalon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy and scheduled to be held in Irvine, California, in October.
The teams will be judged in 10 categories – architecture, market appeal, engineering, communication, affordability, comfort zone, appliances, home life, commuting and energy balance.
The team in orange will be up against students from such universities as California Polytechnic, Yale, New York City College of Technology, and the home team, University of California-Irvine.
Clemson's team is building a prototype on campus now, but unlike most teams, which will haul their houses to the competition, Clemson is going to email its blueprints to California and have the materials already there and build it on the scene, said Vincent Blouin, a Clemson architecture professor and principal investigator for the project.
"Instead of transporting the house to California, we are emailing it," he said.
The team has designed a 1,000-square-foot house, named "Indigo Pine" after two of South Carolina's historically important products, that not only will be energy efficient but also will be comfortable, and distinctly Southern.
They started with the traditional concept of a Southern home, with a porch and gabled ceilings, and turned it into something that "will look unlike any house before." But, "it will be as welcoming and familiar as any traditional South Carolina home," according to their website.
"I could definitely see myself living in a house like this," said Clair Dias, a grad student from Greenville who has been involved with the project for over a year. "We hope that everyone could see themselves living in a house like this someday."
Part of the competition will involve "entertaining guests" for two nights, cooking and serving meals, watching movies -- "basically running the house like a regular house," Blouin said.
Like all the houses in the competition, it will be connected to the electrical grid to get power at night, but it must put at least as much electricity back into the grid while the sun is shining as it took out, he said.
It also must produce enough power to charge the battery of an electric car to run 25 miles, he said.
The construction uses a new type of technology, without nails, that is easy to build and energy efficient. Every piece is designed to fit together with an adjacent piece.
"So assembling the house is basically like putting together a giant puzzle," Blouin said.
Being a Southern style house it will, of course, have air-conditioning. But it will use a system that draws pre-cooled air from under the house to reduce the energy demand, he said.
It uses high-efficiency photocell solar panels on the roof and is "very well insulated."
According to the rules, it must meet all building codes, including earthquake-resistant features, Blouin said.
Students in architecture, engineering and social sciences are collaborating on the project.
"It's by far been the highlight of my architecture education," Dias said, "and I'm thrilled that it's going to be constructed."