A $5 million grant from the state legislature will bring a Sustainability Decathlon to Orange County, and Dr. Fred Smoller (Political Science) helped make it happen. The competition will be held in Spring, 2023 at the Orange County Fair and Event Center in Costa Mesa. The event’s goal is to “motivate and empower California’s best and brightest to lead the state’s transition to 100 percent renewables,” according to the grant proposal.

The grant was awarded to Smoller, Dr. Mike Moodian, an adjunct professor in the Attallah College of Educational Studies, and Richard King, who founded the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in 2000, and will be facilitated through Charitable Ventures, a local non-profit incubator.

“We believe California should have a competition that surpasses the traditional national competition in size and impact. California leads the nation in solar installations, the state’s legislature has passed ambitious climate change legislation, and (present and past) governors of both parties have made tackling climate change a priority. To be successful, the public must be engaged, and leading-edge solutions need to be available. The Orange County Sustainability Decathlon can help meet the State’s ambitious goals.” said Smoller.

The Orange County Sustainability Decathlon (OCSD) is modeled after the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. Teams of college students from across the world design, build and operate highly efficient houses that are powered by renewable energy. The houses are assembled at a central location for display, evaluation, and awards.

In 2015, Chapman partnered with The University of California and Irvine, Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College to build “Casa Del Sol.”

The 10 contests that are the foundation of Solar Decathlon challenge students to design and build high-performance, low-carbon buildings that mitigate climate change and improve our quality of life through greater affordability, resilience, and energy efficiency. The winners are those teams that best blend architectural and engineering excellence with innovation.

Since its inception in 2002, Solar Decathlons have been held in China, Middle East, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. The new competition will be limited to California colleges and universities.

“In the past, these competitions have helped usher innovations to market, including ultra high-efficient heating and air conditioning units, super-insulated homes, heat pump hot water heaters, triple- pane windows and home control systems,” said Smoller.

“I hope Chapman will enter the 2023 competition. This is an exciting teaching and learning opportunity. The teams include students and faculty from across the campus–the natural sciences, social sciences, political science, engineering, marketing, environmental and disability studies to name just a few.” $100,000 will be awarded to each of the schools accepted into the competition.

“The same way Silicon Valley is known for computers, I want Orange County to be known for sustainability,” Smoller said.