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UNLV team prepares to break ground on solar house with net zero energy goal
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LAS VEGAS (AP) — After a year of perfecting their design, a team of students at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, is ready to break ground on a super-energy-efficient house and pit it against similar creations in a national competition.

UNLV's Solar Decathlon team submitted plans for approval and hopes to start building the 735-square-foot, solar-powered house dubbed "Desert Sol" later this month.

"It's a fairly small project, but it's revolutionary," Eric Weber, a UNLV architecture professor who is overseeing the project, told the Las Vegas Sun. "You don't necessarily need a 3,500-square-foot house in Las Vegas. We need better-designed homes and a more sustainable way of living in the desert."

UNLV was among 20 teams chosen a year ago for the U.S. Department of Energy's 2013 Solar Decathlon competition. The team was given a $100,000 federal grant to start the project, although the total cost of the building is expected to reach about $800,000. Most of the funding will come from donations.

Unlike other buildings that have energy-saving features, the UNLV project is a "net-zero" building, meaning it doesn't use fossil fuels and doesn't produce any carbon emissions. Net-zero buildings are designed to produce even more energy than they take in.

The house is being built on two rolling mobile home chassis and will be driven from the UNLV campus to the competition site in Irvine, Calif., in time for the showdown in October.

During the contest, the team will compete in events that showcase the home, such as a dinner party for four and a movie night.

Desert Sol, powered by 30 solar panels, will feature a weathered wood-and-steel exterior that nods to Nevada's abandoned mining towns. The interior will include a kitchen, bathroom, living area, closet and bedroom. A shaded fountain at the house will use recycled rainwater.

The house is expected to return to Las Vegas after the contest, Weber said, and may become a museum exhibit. It's also possible that the design will serve as a model and be mass-produced, as did Appalachian State University's entry in 2011.