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Solar Decathlon Leads To Patent-Pending Technology & Career


Matthew O’Kelly participated twice in the Solar Decathlon—first as the HVAC engineer for The Ohio State University (OSU) 2009 team and then as the project engineer for the OSU 2011 team, according to Carol Laurie for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Since then, O’Kelly has not only established a successful design career but also been instrumental in developing a patent-pending technology that began with the OSU 2011 competition house.

After graduating from OSU with his master’s degree in 2012, O’Kelly secured a job with Priority Designs, an industrial design firm based in Columbus, Ohio. He says that his Solar Decathlon experience was a major reason he got the job.

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The 2012 energyhawc capstone team included (back row, from left) Matthew O’Kelly, Dr. Mark Walter, Marcy Kaercher, Brendan O’Shaughnessy, James Rowland, and Chris Schleich, (front row, from left) Scott Heckler, Sarah Weals, Lee Trask, and Fandi Peng. | Photo courtesy of Matthew O’Kelly.

The 2011 competition was the defining experience of my academic career at OSU, and it was essential in helping me transition from a student to a professional engineer. The Solar Decathlon provided me with a great opportunity to work on an engineering project of significant scale with an amazing and diverse team.

The competition had a condensed timeline, fundraising, blue-sky research and development, hardcore engineering, hands-on fabrication, marketing, and integration between design and engineering. Describing the amount of work, perseverance, and coordination that went into building and designing our house went a long way in convincing Priority Designs and others who interviewed me of my teamwork and engineering skills. –Matthew O’Kelly.

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Solar Decathlon alumnus Matthew O’Kelly stands on the University of Pennsylvania campus in Philadelphia. O’Kelly is part of a team that has developed a patent-pending technology that began with the Solar Decathlon 2011 OSU house. | Photo courtesy of Matthew O’Kelly.

Since the 2011 competition, O’Kelly has continued working with Dr. Mark Walter, OSU associate professor of Mechanical Engineering and the faculty lead for both the 2009 and 2011 OSU Solar Decathlon teams. Together, they developed the patent-pending “energyhawc” whole-house conditioning system and have run three capstone courses for OSU seniors in Mechanical Engineering. O’Kelly credits Walter and the Solar Decathlon experience as pivotal in “adding depth, social responsibility, and mentorship to my engineering education.”

O’Kelly explains that energyhawc
(“hawc” stands for “hybrid air water conditioner”) integrates air conditioning, heating, water heating, ventilation, and de-humidification in one appliance and is up to 50% more energy-efficient than other whole-house conditioning systems. At 33 in. wide by 44 in. long by 60 in. tall (including the water tank), energyhawc is about the same size as a traditional central air-conditioning unit.

Walter and O’Kelly created energyhawc as a modularized, more efficient implementation of the separate sensible and latent cooling concepts they experimented with in their 2011 competition house.

The ideas for energyhawc came directly from the HVAC system that we developed for our 2011 Solar Decathlon house. If we had not built the house, we would not have recognized the need for and then developed the energyhawc technology. –Dr. Mark Walter.

Recently, O’Kelly and Walter won a $100,000 Ohio Third Frontier Startup Validation Fund grant to continue commercializing energyhawc. They have also brought on board James Rowland, a former capstone team member and current OSU master’s student. In June 2014, the OSU Technology and Commercialization Office submitted a utility patent application. O’Kelly, Walter, and Rowland are now working on a third prototype.

First and foremost, the Solar Decathlon is working to provide the novel solutions we will need to solve one of the greatest challenges of our generation: the energy crisis. The side effect of having students work on this problem is that we will have a new generation of engineering, architecture, and business people who are prepared to lead responsible and sustainable projects throughout the world. –Matthew O’Kelly.

Although O’Kelly will continue to work with Walter and Rowland on energyhawc, he’s about to begin the next step in his professional career at the University of Pennsylvania, where he will be a doctoral student in electrical and systems engineering. He intends to shift his focus from product design back to research on embedded systems and controls, but he still plans to keep energy, infrastructure, and sustainability at the forefront of his career.

The students, organizers, and supporters I worked with through the Solar Decathlon have sharpened my resolve to create more sustainable products, buildings, and infrastructure through both social and technological change. I believe that I am not alone in these goals and that events like the Solar Decathlon are very important in training the next generation of engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs who will lead this charge. —-Matthew O’Kelly.

Fans of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon
mark the date for SD 2015:

Solar Decathlon 2015 will be held October 8-18, 2015, at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California. You can check out the team lineup for the competition and the concepts for their student-built zero-energy houses on the 2015 team pages.

Source: 1Sun4All. Reproduced with permission.

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-- I am an artist, painter, writer, interior designer, graphic designer, and constant student of many studies. Living with respect for the environment close at hand, the food chain, natural remedies for healing the earth, people and animals is a life-long expression and commitment. As half of a home-building team, I helped design and build harmonious, sustainable and net-zero homes that incorporate clean air systems, passive and active solar energy as well as rainwater collection systems. Private aviation stirs a special appeal, I would love to fly in the solar airplane and install a wind turbine in my yard. I am a peace-loving, courageous soul, and I am passionate about contributing to the clean energy revolution. I formerly designed and managed a clean energy website,


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