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Bill Hutzel

Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Technology

Energy expert envisions a world where we put in as much as we take out

Bill Hutzel would love to see a future where houses adjust to their inhabitants using automation systems that strike a balance between energy efficiency and human comfort. And so, in addition to his own research in sustainable energy sources, including photovoltaic and solar heating, Hutzel is building a house.

Hutzel’s very special house is a team effort that will make its debut in Washington, D.C. , this September during the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2011 Solar Decathlon. The house is one part of his vision for a world in which solar energy and sustainability become a part of everyday life. The international competition involves 20 collegiate teams vying for the home that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Hutzel is in the College of Technology, but he is leading a talented team of faculty and students from across campus to design and construct a net-zero house for the 2011 competition. “One of the most appealing parts of the project is that it is truly multidisciplinary," he says. "We are relying on a variety of expertise from the entire Purdue community to be most successful.” Construction of the home will begin in April and it will be functional by late June.

"Energy is one of the dominant challenges of our future, and energy independence is one area ripe for improvement,” he says. “Energy policy has been on the back burner in recent years, but it's becoming more of a bipartisan issue. The technology is there, but there needs to be policy changes for more progress to be made.”

The Purdue-built home will include energy-producing elements such as photovoltaic panels that convert the sun’s energy into electricity. The 1,000 square-foot, one-story house will also feature walls made of structurally insulated panels (SIPS) and highly efficient heat pumps for heating, cooling and hot water. Day lighting will be used to further reduce electrical use and produce a bright indoor environment.

Far from being just a technical showcase, the overall design philosophy is to create a functional and cost-effective home that maintains an appealing Midwestern feel. Students have named their creation the INhome, short for Indiana home, to emphasize the customer base they had in mind during the design.

Hutzel has not only served as one of the technical advisors on the project but has also secured sponsorships with corporate partners, many of whom are showcasing innovative new products in the house. He also has to perform a final magic trick — ensuring that the fully functional home is disassembled, safely transported and then correctly reassembled at its destination in Washington.

"I would say this is definitely the biggest undertaking in my teaching career and potentially the most rewarding," Hutzel says. “Our hope with the Solar Decathlon is that we will bring awareness to the issue of energy efficiency in homes, and there's no better place to do that than where policy is made."

A-ha moment: In 2007, Hutzel was serving in Washington, D.C., as an energy-policy advisor to Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Independent senator from Vermont. During a break in legislative sessions, the senator asked Hutzel to accompany him on a tour of the 2007 Solar Decathlon. During this stroll through the National Mall, Hutzel noticed the names of the universities in the competition — Georgia Tech, Illinois, MIT, Texas A&M and others. "All I could think of is, ‘Why aren't we (Purdue) here?,’ " he recalls. He returned to campus and began the initiative that will take Purdue to the event in fall 2011.

Net-zero can become reality: Buildings consume about 40 percent of the energy we use in this country, according to Hutzel, who says it makes sense to do what we can to save energy in them. “Maybe not all of these features can be implemented in your average consumer home right now,” he says, “but the competition is already starting to make the general population and contractors more aware of how to be energy-efficient.” Long term, there is the potential to impact building codes which could lead to significant savings across the country.

Perspectives: "The opportunity to make a difference and to focus all of this great student talent we have inspires my work,” Hutzel says. “It's fun to interact with students from all walks of life. In the same class, you might have a farm kid, a student who grew up in a big city and a student who grew up in another country. Energy can seem like a boring subject to learn about, but I try to make it relevant for students from all backgrounds."

Personal energy: Hutzel knows all about spending and conserving energy. Just take a look at his personal life: “I have five kids and stay busy coaching their teams. I also bike about 1,500 miles a year."

By Kim Medaris Delker
Photos by: Andrew Hancock