Affordable, energy efficient living component of Solar Decathlon

| by Teena Hammond
Affordable, energy efficient living component of Solar Decathlon

Collegiate teams featuring more than 4,000 students from around the world have descended on the National Mall's West Potomac Park to showcase the highly energy efficient solar-powered houses they created for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011. The biennial competition runs through Oct. 2 and challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate houses powered by the sun that are affordable, energy efficient, attractive and easy to live in.

"The Solar Decathlon collegiate teams are showing how clean energy products and efficient building design can help families and businesses reduce energy use and save money," said Energy Secretary Steven Chu, in a press release. "The event challenges talented students to become pioneers of clean energy technology and helps ensure that our nation remains competitive in the workforce of tomorrow."

In addition to educating the public about how to save energy and save money, the Solar Decathlon also provides unique training to the next generation of engineers and architects. Over the last decade, the competition has prepared approximately 15,000 students to become future innovators and entrepreneurs in clean energy technology and efficient building design.

"This award-winning competition engages students from across the nation, and around the world, to develop the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in the clean energy workforce," said Arun Majumdar, senior advisor to Secretary Chu, in the release. "These collegiate teams are demonstrating the talent and ingenuity required to expand our nation's clean energy economy and keep America competitive in the race to solve our global energy challenges."

Student teams in the 2011 competition are from five countries across four continents, including the United States, Belgium, Canada, China and New Zealand. The competition involves 10 contests that gauge each house's performance, livability and affordability. New this year, an affordability contest rewards teams that build houses with estimated costs at or below $250,000. The teams will have to perform everyday tasks, including cooking, laundry, and washing dishes, to test the energy efficiency of their houses. The winner of the overall competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Thousands are expected to visit the houses, which will be open to the public free of charge Oct. 2. Visitors are able to tour the houses, gather ideas to use in their own homes, and learn how energy-saving features can help them save money today. The overall winner will be announced on Oct. 1. This Solar Decathlon is the fifth such competition since 2002.

This year's university-led teams were chosen nearly two years ago through a competitive process. The selected teams and their projects represent a diverse range of design approaches, building technologies, and geographic locations, climates and regions – including urban, suburban and rural settings. They also aim to reach a broad range of target housing markets, including lower-income, disaster relief, retirement, and single family. Teams have gathered their combined interdisciplinary talents to design and build the houses, as well as to raise funds, furnish and decorate the houses, and optimize the houses' performance.

For more information, see our Solar Power for Homes research center.

Topics: Photovoltaic / Solar Panels, Solar Power

Teena Hammond
Teena Hammond has published more than 2,000 articles in People and W magazines, Women's Wear Daily, and in dozens of newspapers and books. She also wrote a home improvement, remodeling and decor column that ran in Gannett newspapers nationwide. She's interested in all things green and would love to hear from you with your story ideas.

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