February 7, 2008
Crunches at dawn? Wind sprints on the beach? No. Try hauling photovoltaic roof panels and lifting solar inverter systems instead.This is the Solar Decathlon, and the next race to build the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house is on.
Not content with building solar-powered cars like other kids, students at 20 colleges and universities are competing to build the most efficient, best-designed solar-powered homes. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon takes place every two years. The final teams for the 2009 competition were announced last month. Students will spend the next two years designing and building 800-square-foot homes that are powered entirely by solar energy. Homes must be net-zero-energy and yield zero carbon, and the winning team will be the one that "best blends aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and optimal efficiency." In October 2009, the teams will transport their homes to Washington, D.C., for judging. On the Washington Mall, all the homes will be erected in the Solar Village, and the public will be invited to view them. A broken truck axle delayed, but did not stop Santa Clara University from taking the third-place prize in 2007. The University of Maryland team took second place for its Leaf House design. Two undergraduate computer engineering majors built a sensor network to control the comfort level of the house. They named the smart-house system SHAC for Smart House Adaptive Control. The 10 individual contests that comprise the decathlon are: Architecture Engineering Market Viability Communications Comfort Zone Appliances Hot Water Lighting Energy Balance Getting Around A list of the 2009 Solar Decathlon 20 teams is here. Three of the teams are from countries outside the United States, including the 2007 winner, Technische Universität Darmstadt, from Germany. By now the German team's house should be back on its home campus. The plan was to use it as a solar power plant, as part of the university's project of a Solar Campus. Buildings on the Technische Universität Darmstadt campus will have built-in photovoltaics, which will upload electricity to the German power grid. Photos of all of the 2007 entries can be viewed here.
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