It may be a little odd to visit Stanford University, a breeding ground for Ph.D.s, and then hear the sounds of students hammering nails. However, a special group of students are engaged in manual labor for a good reason.
In two weeks they've managed to build the shell for what will become a 1,500-square-foot house and it will be state of the art, we might add.
"They want you to design and build a net zero home, which means that you're producing more energy than you consume," said Derek Ouyang, a senior.
Ouyang is referring to the Department of Energy. Ouyang, workmate Rob Best, and the rest of their team will build an efficient house they can also tear apart, truck to Southern California, and rebuild within a week for a contest. It's modular.
"What we're trying to do is show that the modular home building industry can be more affordable, more energy efficient and still maintain the same level of customizability and attractiveness that you get in a normal house," said Best, a Ph.D. candidate.
When finished, the house will have 48 solar panels on the roof, producing 30 kilowatt hours of electricity every day. It's significant because that form of energy has just reached a symbolic milestone.
"From around this point onward, it's going to be producing more energy than it is consuming," said Michael Dale, Ph.D. a Stanford mechanical engineer.
Dale describes it as an obscure milestone. Solar panels have become more efficient, easier and less expensive to produce, and their use is becoming more common. They now, essentially, support themselves in energy terms.
"It's like a business making a profit," said Dale.
The solar panels now help make homes like the one they're building more viable for the future. It's a subtle moment of convergence with the click of a mouse and the banging of hammers.
"The problem with energy is that it's not just a technical problem, it's a behavioral problem where you can have smarter and smarter homes, but what we really want are smarter people," said Ouyang.