The University of Wollongong gave it’s Solar Decathlon-winning team UOW Australia a “rock star” welcome home from China with a celebration reception at the Innovation Campus on Tuesday night (24 September)

Team members emerged individually through a fog screen to enthusiastic applause from guests at the reception, appropriately held in the new Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) which will be the eventual home of the Team UOW Australia’s winning Illawarra Flame house.

In August, the team won the Solar Decathlon at Datong in China, in which university teams from around the world had the task of designing and constructing a sustainable and energy-efficient building. The competition has been dubbed the ‘Energy Olympics,’ and is recognised as one of the most important sustainability competitions in the world.

Team UOW Australia, made up of students from UOW and TAFE Illawarra, was the first ever Australian team to be invited to compete in the prestigious event.

Speakers at the celebration included UOW Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings, TAFE NSW Illawarra Institute Director Di Murray and SBRC Director Professor Paul Cooper, while Team UOW Project Manager Lloyd Niccol spoke about the team’s experience in China.

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Mr Niccol spoke of the emotional roller-coaster ride as the final section votes were tallied. “We went from first place to eighth, the clawed our way back to the top,” he said.

Mr Niccol said more than 35,000 people had visited the Illawarra Flame house at the Solar Decathlon exhibition grounds at Datong, making it one of the most popular exhibits.

The team’s marketing manager Jack Breen also produced a video about the project which was shown at the celebration, giving guests an insight into the scale of the project and the size of the event in China.

Ms Murray said the partnership between TAFE Illawarra and UOW had been an extremely fruitful one, which opened up all kinds of possibilities for future collaboration.

Professor Wellings praised the team’s attention to detail, saying its ability to deal with the complexity of the project had given it a winning edge, and said it had been an exemplary representative for Australia at the competition.

“The team members were wonderful ambassadors, not just for their institutions, but for the Illawarra and for Australia,” he said.

Professor Wellings and Ms Murray combined to present Mr Niccol with the Solar Decathlon trophy as the team looked on.

The team took first place with 957.6 of a possible 1000 points (the highest score awarded in any Solar Decathlon competition).

While many teams took a futuristic approach, Team UOW devised an extremely practical concept for its entry – demonstrating how to transform a traditional Australian fibro cottage into a highly energy-efficient home through an innovative retrofit. Having constructed the Illawarra Flame house in Wollongong, the team took it apart and shipped it to China for the contest.

It is now on its way home from China and will be re-erected next to the SBRC.

The house produces more energy than it uses, with features such as solar energy generation, phase change material integrated air heating system, thermal store, and grey-water recycling that uses an artificial wetland built into the garden to filter the water.

The victory has generated extensive global media coverage.

Emerging rock band The Vanns performed at the celebration, entertaining guests who included sponsors, civic leaders, UOW and TAFE staff and friends and family of the team members.

Words by Nick Hartgerink. Originally Published on UOW Newsroom