CLEMSON, South Carolina — A team of Clemson University students and faculty will unveil their innovative new solar home on a national stage in Irvine, California, this week as judging begins in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015.

Team Clemson's Indigo Pine nears completion in Irvine.

Team Clemson’s Indigo Pine nears completion in Irvine.
Image Credit: Robbie Fitzwater / Clemson University

Team Clemson began the journey to Irvine nearly two years ago with 19 other collegiate teams, but is now one of 14 teams left standing.

After nine days of assembly on the California competition site, and more than two years of preparation, inspiration and collaboration in Clemson, the team will engage in 10 days of contests and public education as they seek national recognition for their groundbreaking design, “Indigo Pine.”

“The design and construction of a zero-energy home — especially a livable, affordable, accessible, customizable, market-rate, family home — has more potential than any other project imaginable to make a positive difference in the world and for South Carolina families,” said Kate Schwennsen, director of the School of Architecture.

Clemson’s team has approached the competition in unique ways. While most teams construct their homes in advance and reassemble them in large sections on the competition grounds, Clemson chose to construct their home from scratch in Irvine, using primarily handheld tools. Team Clemson also took the unusual step of constructing a preliminary house in Clemson as a practice run. Dubbed “Indigo Pine East” and “Indigo Pine West,” the two-house approach is just one of the out-of-the-box ways this group of students tackled the challenge.

Indigo Pine is a customizable home that can be cut from off-the-shelf plywood and assembled by hand, using screws and stainless steel zip ties, but no nails. The resulting house is structurally stronger than a conventionally built home.

“Our team has invented an energy-efficient, strong, simple system called SimPly — the construction of which is faster, safer, easier and more energy-efficient than traditional construction with power tools,” Schwennsen said.

“This house is the beta version of what could be a market-rate, flat-packed house that could be ordered online, custom-cut and then constructed by do-it-yourselfers or home builders over the course of a few days.

“It’s accessible, affordable, livable, zero-energy.”

More than 100 students from all five of Clemson’s academic colleges created Indigo Pine. Faculty leaders include Vincent Blouin, principal investigator who holds a joint appointment in architecture and engineering; along with architecture faculty Dan Harding, Ulrike Heine, Dustin Albright and David Pastre.

photo of solar panel installation at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015.

Clemson University team members Neely Leslie (left) and Justin Hamrick install solar panels under the sun on day 5 of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine.
Image Credit: Thomas Kelsey / U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Clemson Architecture is basing a design studio in Irvine this fall to facilitate the construction of Indigo Pine. Twenty-four students are on site for the build, supported by their peers in Clemson and at the Clemson Architecture Center in Charleston.

“We encourage our students to think critically, be creative, collaborate and communicate,” said Richard Goodstein, dean of the College of Architecture, Arts and Humanities. “I can’t point to a better example of that than this team of dedicated, talented young people.”

“On behalf of all of us at Clemson, I want to thank each and every one of the farsighted supporters who helped get us to Irvine,” Goodstein said. “While the team received invaluable financial support from the university, as well as a grant from the Department of Energy, more than 90 percent of the team’s funding has come from corporate foundations and private individuals.

“Regardless of the outcome over the next 10 days, this team has already won.”


  • Oct. 8: 9:30–11 a.m. (Pacific Daylight Time): Opening ceremony
  • Oct. 8-11 and Oct. 15-17: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. (PDT): Public exhibit
  • Oct. 8-16: Contests
  • Oct. 15: 10 a.m. (PDT), Contest results announced for affordability and market appeal
  • Oct. 16: 10 a.m. (PDT), Contest results announced for architecture and communications
  • Oct. 17: 10 a.m. (PDT), Final awards ceremony

Contests of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015:

  • Affordability
  • Appliances
  • Architecture
  • Comfort Zone
  • Communications
  • Commuting
  • Energy Balance
  • Engineering
  • Home Life
  • Market Appeal

Who are the Solar Decathlon 2015 teams?

  • California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo
  • California State University, Sacramento
  • Clemson University
  • Crowder College and Drury University
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • New York City College of Technology
  • State University of New York at Alfred College of Technology and Alfred University
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • The University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen
  • University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
  • University of California, Davis
  • Team Orange County (University of California Irvine, Chapman University, Irvine Valley College and Saddleback College)
  • West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata
  • Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana


 The project is funded in part by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE), U.S. Department of Energy, under Award Number DE-. EE0006559.