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Solar Decathlon: A Home for Entertainment

Fixing gourmet meals in an ultra-energy-efficient home requires careful consideration of kitchen appliances.

Research  |  Jun 18, 2013  |  By Ana Klein
Editor's Note: 

This is part of a series of stories by student Ana Klein, a member of the UNLV Solar Decathlon team. Through the fall, she will chronicle the team's progress in building their entry in the prestigious contest.


Decathlon. When most people hear this word they think of the Olympic’s true test of athleticism in which the world’s elite compete in 10 events. Well, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 challenges university teams worldwide to build a solar-powered home.

The 20 teams selected for the prestigious Solar Decathlon must excel in the 10 contests ranging from the home’s market appeal to its performance in producing hot water.

For the home entertainment contest each team must come up with unique menus for two dinner parties and one movie night. Two members from each team will cook the meals in the home during the decathlon and then serve eight guests/judges.

To come up with a menu, Team Las Vegas joined forces with Daniel Swift, executive chef instructor in William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. He said the project shows how design goes beyond building to fully consider a homeowner’s way of life.

“Having to make the meal with the appliances in the home that are powered by the energy the home produces, the team must come up with a well-planned menu,” Swift said. “In a culture where we have a different machine for every task, this setup makes us rethink the process and, in a way, go back in time in order to move into the future.”

Both of the competition’s dinner menus consist of four courses: appetizers, first course, main entrée, and dessert. The first dinner includes a variety of delectable items like fresh watermelon juice, stuffed mushrooms, braised beef, and crème fraîche. The second menu consists of a tangy blackberry lemonade served alongside a delicious tomato soup, sautéed chicken, and a tiramisu cheesecake.

For the movie night menu, the team built its menu around a theater favorite: popcorn. The "mix your own popcorn" gives the guest an opportunity to have fun by picking from five different mouth-watering flavors ranging from spicy Asian blend to prickly pear glaze.

Team Las Vegas had the great task of representing a city with a strong culinary presence, when it came time to creating a tasteful menu for this contest. Team member Christian Iusso attended culinary school for two years before going into architecture. He worked with Swift on developing the menu and will be one of the team members responsible for cooking the food to the invited guests at the competition.

About the Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 is an international competition with the goal of educating the public about energy-saving residential designs. In this award-winning program, collegiate teams design, build, and maintain sustainable solar-powered houses. These are student-run projects, with the guidance and support from faculty members, industry mentors and community supporters.

The competition involves 10 contests. Each contest has a maximum of 100 points, a total of 1,000 possible points. There are three ways in which the points can be earned: task completion, monitored performance, and jury evaluations.

The juried contests are architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications and affordability. The measured contests are comfort zone, hot water, appliances, and energy balance. Home entertainment is both juried and measured.

Team Las Vegas’ entry is being built on campus this summer and will be transported to Irvine, Calif., for the Decathlon competition in September. Afterwards, the home will be installed at the Las Vegas Spring Preserve.