BY BRIAN WASAG Of CONTRACTOR’s staff
WASHINGTON — Twenty teams from colleges and universities worldwide will compete here this month to determine who can design the most energy-efficient house powered completely by solar energy. The teams will bring their finished homes to the National Mall for the 2007 Solar Decathlon Oct. 12- 20.
The solar homes and educational exhibits will form a “solar village” that will be open to the public. The houses will be open for tours each day except Oct. 17. The U.S. Department of Energy, the event’s primary sponsor, will announce an overall winner on Oct. 19.
In order to win the competition, teams must build a home that combines aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and optimal efficiency. This year’s competition will feature not only teams from the U.S., but Germany, Spain, Puerto Rico and Canada as well.
During the 10-day competition, students will test their homes in contests ranging from architecture, marketability and comfort to how well the homes perform such tasks as heating water and powering appliances. Each team also must provide enough solar electricity to power an electric car.
The buildings’ energy systems also must maintain the house within a certain temperature and humidity range to provide lighting and run appliances. The teams generate that energy with photovoltaic systems to directly produce electricity and with solar thermal systems for space heating and cooling and water heating.
Each team spends nearly two years designing and building the 800-sq. ft. homes and preparing for the competition. The students use readily available supplies including wood, insulation materials and energyefficient lighting and appliances.
Some teams use off-the-shelf modular components while others incorporate routine materials in innovative ways. Many teams use structural integrated panels made of rigid foam insulation placed between two structural boards to form a panel that works well for roofs, walls and floors. Photovoltaic panels will power all of the homes.
Teams can earn up to 1,200 points based on a total of 10 contests. The contests will determine how well the homes perform at meeting such things as temperature and humidity requirements. The teams also must complete tasks such as washing laundry and dishes. Additionally, they can score points by impressing juries made up of experts in architecture, engineering and other appropriate fields.
After the competition, the teams will decide the fate of their solar homes. The University of Colorado, which was the overall winner of the first two Solar Decathlons in 2002 and 2005, already has sold its 2007 solar house to Xcel Energy. After the team expands the house’s size, the company plans to use the home as a permanent facility for research, education and outreach to both the industry and the public.
Another team from Carnegie Mellon University plans to permanently install its house at the Powder Mill Nature Reserve, an outdoor educational center affiliated with the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Other teams hope to use their houses on campus to serve as educational tools for their architecture and engineering departments.
Teams wanting to participate in the competition had to submit proposals and plans to the Solar Decathlon Proposal Review Committee. The committee then assessed the entries against predetermined criteria and selected the teams. The committee includes engineers, scientists and other experts from the DOE and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory.
The DOE awards $100,000 over two years to each of the selected teams. Team members then enlist community and industry support to raise the remaining funds for the competition.
The DOE said it developed the Solar Decathlon to encourage young people to pursue careers in science and engineering and to acquaint those students with solar power and energy efficiency. The department also hopes the event will raise awareness among the general public about renewable energy and energy efficiency and help move solar energy technologies to the marketplace faster.
“The next generation of leaders will have an opportunity to shine as they compete in the 2007 Solar Decathlon,” U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said. “Supplying enough clean, affordable energy to fuel the world’s growing economies is one of the great challenges we will face over the coming years. By helping expand the use of solar energy technologies, the participants will help meet that challenge.”
DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory sponsors and manages the Solar Decathlon. The American Institute of Architects, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers, the National Association of Home Builders, the U.S. Green Building Council, BP and Sprint are title sponsors.
Another Solar Decathlon will take place in fall 2009. The request for proposals for the 2009 Solar Decathlon will be available during the 2007 event. Additional information is available at www.solardecathlon.org.