Solar Decathlon competition kicks off in D.C. with five southeastern competitors

Guest Blog | September 23, 2011 | Energy Policy
solar-decathIn the past week, more than 20 homes have been built on the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington D.C.. No, they weren’t built by squatters or angry protesters. They were built by university teams from all over the world, including five teams from southeastern states, to compete in the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon competition that kicked off today and extends through the end of next week. It’s the largest green-design competition in the world.

all this week Solar Decathlon teams have been building homes on the National Mall in D.C.
All this week Solar Decathlon teams have been building homes on the National Mall in D.C.

The biennial competition challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate highly energy-efficient, solar powered houses that are judged in 10 different categories, including the home’s comfort level, it’s ability to operate as a typical home, and its visual and market appeal. The overall winning formula is to design and operate a home that is affordable, attractive and easy to live in, all while producing as much or more energy than it consumes.

This years competition includes five teams from Southeastern states representing nine different universities. Each team drew on different inspirations and used different technologies to construct their homes, but all are driven by the desire to maximize energy efficiency and solar generation in a home that people will want to live in.

Appalachian State's Solar Homestead

Appalachian State: Hailing from Boone, North Carolina, the Mountaineers have put together a concept home they’re calling “The Solar Homestead.” It’s a collection of six smaller structures that work together to provide a self-sufficient living space surrounding a “great porch.” The home is powered by 42 solar panels that can provide up to 8.2 kilowatts (kW) of power while allowing filtered sunlight through into the home. The Solar Homestead also gets it hot water from an on-demand solar thermal hot water system and uses special materials in the walls that can store heat during the day and release it at night.

Florida International's Perform[D]ance House

Florida International University: The Golden Panthers have entered the Solar Decathlon competition with a home they’re calling the “PerFORM[D]ance House.” It uses specialized glazing on the windows to minimize the impacts of the intense Florida sun and insulated folding glass doors and screens to protect from humid weather and insects while allowing natural light into the living space. It also features an interactive automation system that allows the home to automatically adapt to changing conditions both inside and out.

floridaTeam Florida: It only makes sense that the Sunshine State would have two entries into the Solar Decathlon. Team Florida is a collaboration between the University of South Florida, Florida State University, the University of Central Florida and the University of Florida. The team’s “FleX House” was designed to be prefabricated and transported on a single truck. It includes 5 kW of solar photovoltaic, corrugated metal siding that is reflective, durable and economical, and an umbrella-like outer structure that actually shades the roof to minimize heat gain.

utThe University of Tennessee: The Volunteers of Tennessee have constructed their home, called “Living Light,” to take advantage of a loft-like design. The home also features a blind system that is sandwiched between two panes of glass and computer operated to provide optimal lighting and shading for the interior year-round. The automated controls can actually be set to slowly let light in as your alarm clock is going off in the morning. The air in between the two panes of glass can also be circulated through the house to provide either heating or cooling as necessary. The home is inspired by the cantilever barns that were built in the area by European settlers, featuring two “cores” that are centered around a more open center space.

tidewaterTidewater Virginia: The final southeastern contestant in this year’s Solar Decathlon is a collaboration between Old Dominion University and Hampton University, both from Virginia. The team has created “Unit 6” that is designed to be part of a multi-unit development. The home uses specially designed shades that allow the sun to heat the space in the winter, when the sun is lower in the sky, and then keep the space shaded in the summer when the sun is higher in the sky. The house also features garden beds that double as a collection point and filtration system for the home’s gray water output.

These five teams make up a quarter of this year’s participants — a great showing from the Southeast where some still claim the sun doesn’t shine enough for solar. Over the next week, the homes will compete in the ten competitions I mentioned above and a winner will be announced next weekend. You can follow the competition from the Solar Decathlon website and interact with each team on their blogs, twitter feeds and facebook pages. I’ll be there in person next Friday and Saturday to check out these homes up close and see how teams from all over the world have taken on this challenge. Stay tuned!

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