WASHINGTON — Eighteen colleges and universities set up solar houses on the National Mall here in October, competing to see who had the best engineering and construction students. The top objective of the 2005 Solar Decathlon was to produce the most net electric and thermal energy.
U. S. Secretary of Energy Samuel W. Bodman announced that the University of Colorado took overall honors in the 2005 Solar Decathlon. Cornell University placed second, and California Polytechnic State University finished third.
All the houses had to be the same size, 800 sq. ft., which was also practical because the houses had to be trucked to Washington. The houses remained open to the public through Oct. 16.
"We should all be proud of what these students have accomplished," Bodman said. " Through their ingenuity, their knowledge of design and engineering, and an incredible amount of determination and hard work, they have demonstrated that we can have it all — beautiful homes, comfortable homes and homes that produce all the power they need."
The primary sponsor of the Solar Decathlon is DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory within the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. Private-sector sponsors include the American Institute of Architects, the National Association of Home Builders, BP Solar, the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) Network and Sprint Nextel.
The University of Colorado ended up with 853 points of a possible 1,100. Cornell University earned 826 points, and California Polytechnic State University finished with 809 points.
The Solar Decathlon pitted teams from the United States, including Puerto Rico; Canada; and Spain in a competition to design, build and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home.
Most of the houses proved that solar houses don't need to look strange to work, although one of the houses looked like an Airstream trailer that had seen better days.
Students competed in 10 areas, ranging from architecture, livability and comfort to how well the homes provide energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lighting and appliances. All students were required to live in the houses and use energy for heating or cooling, cooking and bathing. Each house had to produce enough "extra" power for an electric car, which the students were required to drive a specified distance to use energy.
All the houses were designed for their locations, with Colorado's house built for a mountain winter and Florida International University's house designed primarily to capture photovoltaic electricity for cooling.
The Colorado house, much of which was designed and piped by CONTRACTOR hydronic heating columnist Mark Eatherton (see related column, pg. 32), had evacuated tube thermal collectors on its sidewall to take advantage of the low winter sun.
The house from Virginia Tech, built with considerable assistance from REHAU, ran water-to-water and water-toair heat pumps from the solar thermal and photovoltaic energy it gathered.
The oddball, if you could call it that among the Cal Polys and Cornells, was tiny Crowder College, a community college in Neosho, Mo. The school's Missouri Alternative & Renewable Energy Technology Center is run by Art Boyt, whom Watts Radiant's Dan Chiles enthusiastically calls "a genius."
Crowder's house had it roof completely covered with photovoltaic panels. Solar thermal panels were located underneath the PV panels because it was still plenty hot even with the thermal panels covered.
Many of the teams participating in the Solar Decathlon hope their houses will serve a far greater purpose beyond that of the competition. The Universityof Maryland team plans to return its house to the community. After the competition, the team will take its solar home to Red Wiggler Community Farm in Clarksburg, Md. Founded in 1996, the Red Wiggler Community Farm provides jobs for adults with developmental disabilities through the business of growing and selling high-quality produce. The Maryland home will serve as housing for staff and a living exhibit of solar power. The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth is donating their 800-sq.-ft. house to Habitat for Humanity, where the team hopes it can help a family affected by Hurricane Katrina. After the competition, the house will be shipped from the National Mall to Louisiana.
Consistent with their environmentally friendly design, students of the University of Colorado plan to bring their solar house to a community in Longmont, Colo., where it will become part of "Project New Town," an urban neighborhood that features a variety of unique architecture.