They call it a decathlon, although there are no tracks to sprint, nojavelins to throw. But there are hurdles to jump. That’s because it isthe Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. In October, the U.S. Department of Energy will host 20 teamsof college and university students competing in 10 contests over thecourse of three weeks to design, build, and operate the mostattractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Andthe public is invited to come and watch!
Here’s how it works: first the solar decathlon teams build theirhouses. The teams have to raise money, hire contractors and findsupplies. Here’s video of Lumenhaus built by one of this year’s teams,Virginia Tech:
Other teams in this years Decathloninclude Cornell, Universidad de Puerto Rico, Team Spain, University ofIllinois, Team Boston, Team California and Team Ontario/BC. There are20 in all. Corporate sponsors include Applied Materials, BP, Pepco and Schneider Electric. The U.S. Green Building Council, Alliance for Sustainable Energy and Popular Mechanics are among the supporting sponsors.
Once designed and built, the teams have to transport their houses tothe National Mall in Washington, D.C., and rebuild them on site in the“solar village”. The houses must meet certain criteria. They must beattractive and easy to live in, maintain comfortable and healthy indoorenvironmental conditions, feature appealing and adequate lighting,supply energy to household appliances for cooking and cleaning, powerhome electronics, provide hot water and balance energy production andconsumption.
Once the houses are rebuilt on the Mall, the teams get points in 10 different subjective and objective competition areas:
- Market Viability
- Lighting Design
- Communications (i.e., how well the team can communicate the technical aspects of their house)
- Comfort Zone
- Hot Water
- Home Entertainment
- Net Metering
Home entertainment sounds like fun. Teams go through a series ofchallenges like holding two dinner parties and hosting a movie nightfor neighbors. Guests award the host team points based on the qualityof the meal, movie enjoyment, ambiance, and overall experience.
The opening ceremony will be on October 8th at 1 pm on the NationalMall. The Solar Decathlon team houses will be open for public visits 11a.m.–3 p.m. Monday–Friday and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays Oct.9–13 and 15–18. There will also be Consumer Workshops on solar energyand energy-efficiency and two educational exhibits.
The Anatomy of a House exhibit provides tips on saving energyfor homeowners with interactive features including demonstrations ofseveral building technologies used in the competition houses as well asa representation of a grid-connected photovoltaic (PV) system thatshows how a PV system is set up for a typical home. The Get Smart: Take Charge of Your Energy! Exhibit is all about energy choices.
The DOE says that the purpose of the Solar Decathlon is “to bringattention to one of the biggest challenges we face—an ever-increasingneed for energy.” Along the way, they are demonstrating the potentialof Zero Energy Homes, homes that produce as much energy as theyconsume, and giving the next generation of engineers, architects anddesigners a head start on creating them.
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