The Zero-Energy Expert

Alvin Chen, a senior in mechanical engineering from Longmont, Colorado.

His long-term target: A career in sustainable development.

His strategy: Alvin spent part of his summer in Beijing, China, proving that a net-zero energy house is doable. Working with other undergrads from Tsinghua University, he came up with a concept, then built a 3-D computer model of a house that uses only wind, solar and geothermal energy. If built today, the 2,500-square-foot house would cost about $370,000, or around $2,100 a month, plus $0 in utilities.

Room to improve: As conceived, the house would yield a 25- to 30-year return on investment—a number he’d like to see improve. But regardless of cost, a house like that would bear a long-sustainable green badge of honor.

By Amy Raley