Retrofit Solutions to Meet Emissions Targets on Time

08 March 2022

To help build a more sustainable future and meet global emissions targets on time UC students and faculty propose retrofitting building opportunities opposed to just replacement alternatives as they advance in a major international design competition’s final.

  • Solar Decathlon Article

The UC Mech Engineering Department is ecstatic to announce the recent achievement by our undergraduate students and faculty liaisons in succeeding through the semi-final competition in their inaugural entry for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2022 Design Challenge! This competition seeks to improve the energy efficiency and sustainability of buildings, with the aim of designing a Net Zero Energy building. As the finals are set to occur in April 2022, we were able to sit down with team lead Finn McIntyre and team advisor Bill Mohs to discuss some of the aspects involved with their accomplishments as well as their plans for moving forward into the finals.

The Design Challenge is structured for a team to compete in one of six total sections in either a commercial or residential category. As this was the first year UC has taken part in the competition, many considerations needed to be made as to how to approach this unventured territory with limited previous experience. To best address this, Finn, Bill, and the team decided to enter under the Retrofit Housing section by working towards a redesign of a local house here in Christchurch.

Finn had this to say, “There’s a lot of opportunity for a retrofit design and one of the reasons we’re interested in retrofit is because a lot of the solutions that are being proposed do not address existing properties and assume that the best way forward is to get rid of the old stock and replace it with better new stock. But the reality is that to heed global emissions targets, none of these replacement builds will have been completed by then.” He further adds, “ there will still be people living in these houses, right?”

Finn addresses the relevance and importance of the Retrofit section of the competition. There is a necessary symmetry that will be required to address the global climate crisis and simply replacing all existing residential housing with new builds would not be a practical or an achievable solution toward reaching proposed climate change goals.

The Retrofit category is an area where the team was able to harness the resources and talent that are currently available through university and industry partners, while also providing design solutions that are unique to the challenges facing Aotearoa New Zealand. The team has completed an energy analysis and audit of the existing structure. They’ve also partnered with local companies within the sustainable building industry to learn about the available technology and see how to integrate these technologies into the retrofit building design.

With an ambitious plan now devised and designed, the UC team was ready to take on the competition, which is amply represented by a litany of majorly funded universities throughout the United States and worldwide. To separate themselves from the pack, Finn and the team recognized the crucial component of the competition was being able to accurately articulate their design in a judged 8-minute presentation to the overseeing body.

Bill alludes to the team’s success stating, “Finn and the other students involved really did a good job of boiling and condensing all of that information into a presentation and effectively communicating it. In the end, they definitely were one of the best teams that I had seen and had a good reception from the jury”.

What distinguishes our UC team from the competition is that they were motivated almost entirely in a volunteer capacity, whereas many other teams throughout the United States and elsewhere participated under factors of academic course credit or have a longstanding institutional presence in the competition with some universities partaking in every category section.

Speaking to Finn and Bill, they both clearly see UC being a serious contender for the finals and ultimately wish to see UC make this competition a regular event for years to come. One of the most interesting aspects of this Design Challenge is that it encompasses areas not strictly limited to one field but operates as a cross functional team that consists of Mech, Civil, Electrical, and Law students. UC students involved in these fields or those who simply just want to be involved with this team moving forward in the future are highly encouraged to reach out to Bill Mohs at (bill.mohs@canterbury.ac.nz).

The finals are set to take place between April 23-25 (NZ Time). For the next few weeks, the team will continue to refine their design while communicating and building relationships with local stakeholders. We look forward to seeing the team represent UC and will be cheering for them!

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