Window of opportunity in Illawarra Flame House

Energy efficiency, sustainability, market appeal

If you’ve ever wondered how to get a whole house through customs, Lloyd Niccol is your man.

If you’ve ever wondered how to get a whole house through customs, Lloyd Niccol is your man. He managed the feat through one of the world’s largest ports and as part of international competition, the Solar Decathlon.

As Project Manager and student leader of Team UOW’s 2013 entry, the Illawarra Flame House, Lloyd Niccol – a Bluescope engineering cadet and student at the time – was responsible for co-ordinating over 50 members of a diverse project team to design, build and operate a full-size house.

Not just any house, though – one that combined the very best of cost and energy efficiency, sustainability, comfort, market appeal, architectural beauty and innovation. And it wasn’t built just once either, but several times. The last being in China, with the clock ticking.

For the Solar Decathlon Middle East 2018, Team UOW will again build an affordable, stylish, net-zero energy, solar-powered house. This time, though, the team has set themselves the additional challenge of creating a house that adapts to a person’s needs as they age, including support for conditions such as dementia. The project is called Desert Rose House.

Niccol said the 2013 challenge required serious dedication and perseverance from competitors, many of whom worked over 12-hour days almost everyday for over a year. In Niccol’s case, a little resourceful ingenuity from the team helped too – like when he found himself sharing a drink with Chinese locals, the group smashing terracotta blocks to recreate the supplies needed for Team UOW’s house just days before the competition started.

“[The Solar Decathlon] is an incredible competition and a life-changing experience. You get to design and build an amazing house and what is almost like a small business, from scratch. You get to go overseas, build good, lasting friendships and relationships, and the level of rapid learning is phenomenal,” he said.

“Everything was a huge learning curve. It was hard work, and the pressure to meet targets and deliver all the way through the project was immense, but I built a lot of great teamwork, communication and technical skills from it.

“The international experience going to China, especially for the final competition, was a real lesson in culture too. Working with other people and the different systems, processes and ways of doing business was something we all got a lot out of.”

Not even Niccol thought, as he traipsed through Chinese countryside with a local middle-man searching for crucial landscaping materials, that he could top the experience of entering a Solar Decathlon. But the feeling of leading Team UOW to victory, with the highest score ever recorded in the competition’s history, was the icing on the cake.

He said he was particularly proud of the legacy created by the Illawarra Flame House and the opportunities it’s given him and his team to make “a real environmental difference” and educate people about sustainability.

“It increased the exposure of sustainable construction, certainly within the University and in the Illawarra. It increased the profile of our Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC), where the house is now reconstructed and part of its Living Laboratory research facilities, even open to the public for short-term stays.”

“The project also increased the profile of a lot of the students involved – including me – and gave us a lot of connections, contacts and job prospects, so there was huge amount of benefit from it.

“I'm currently an Honorary Research Fellow at the SBRC, where many from the team have done their PhD or are now researchers. I also lead a number of development projects within BlueScope’s Product Innovation Team, so through my work I have a number of professional relationships with team members and our sponsors, too.”

The Solar Decathlon has seen Niccol’s interest in sustainable construction deepen, leading him to complete a Fellowship with the Centre for Sustainability Leadership. He’s currently working on the development of breakthrough high-performing, efficient and beautiful steel-based construction systems and products to transform the way we construct buildings in Australia.

“Without the leadership experience and the technical experience I got on the project, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now. It’s been hugely valuable both for me personally and my career,” he said.

Mr Niccol’s position as Building Products & Solutions Innovation Specialist at BlueScope sees him co-ordinating the company’s involvement as a sponsor of the 2018 team, offering support and materials for the project.

“They’ve got a strong team,” he said, “A lot of their design material has been really fascinating. They’ve got a really exciting concept around a dementia-friendly house, which is meaningful and needed. They’re doing a really good job.

“As long as you're passionate about sustainability and what the team and competition are trying to achieve, I’d say ‘go for it’, get involved. It’s absolutely worth it.”

Lloyd Niccol
Bachelor of Engineering (Mechanical Engineering)/Bachelor of Commerce, 2014

Jessica Sparks
Certificate in Languages, 2013
Bachelor of Journalism/Bachelor of Laws, 2016