Student teams prep for 2011 Solar Decathlon

| by John Johnson
Student teams prep for 2011 Solar Decathlon

Student teams from around the world are putting the final touches on their design plans for the 2011 Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C. Twenty colleges were named as finalists in April to design and build a sustainable home for the U.S. Department of Energy contest that is held every other year. The program culminates with a judging competition of the solar homes at the solar village on the Washington Mall in October 2011.

Last year, about 100,000 people came to the National Mall to view the homes where Team Germany defended its 2007 title by capturing first place. The University of Colorado brought home the title in 2005. Homes must be solar powered and no larger than 1,000 square feet. Most teams begin building their homes in the spring of 2011. Most are built modularly on campus, disassembled to ship to Washington and then reassembled at the solar village.

“We judge everything from architectural excellence to how many hot showers the house provides,” says Richard King, director of the Solar Decathlon for the DOE. “We simulate showers. (The teams) have to heat and cool the house, cook meals, and we measure all of the energy usage.”

The 2011 Solar Decathlon includes teams from 16 U.S.-based universities as well as from New Zealand, China, Canada and Belgium. The homes are evaluated on 10 different quantitative and qualitative categories. The winner is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

The purpose of the event is to educate students and the general public about the cost saving opportunities presented by energy efficient products. Since 2002, when the event was first held, 92 different teams have competed, drawing participation from about 15,000 students. Last year, 32 workshops were held at the solar village, attracting slightly more than 500 industry professionals.

Upon completion of the contest, many of the homes are sold to individual buyers or donated for research. The Silo House built by Cornell University, for example, was sold to a private buyer for $190,000 and is permanently located on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. The house produced by Santa Clara University returned to the California campus where it is used as a lab and for tours. The team from Tufts University in Boston sold its house to the Housing Assistance Corp. of Cape Cod for $150,000. The team is negotiating with a modular manufacturer for exclusive rights to reproduce and sell the house.

“The challenge of building one of these houses includes almost everything including math, science, drawing, modeling, communicating, developing narrative, and learning about physics and the environment,” says Susan Piedmont-Palladino, a curator at the National Building Museum in Washington, D.C., and a professor of architecture at Virginia Tech. “It’s quite an accomplishment for each university. We are seeing incredible interest in the program. For 2011 they had far more qualified schools apply than they were prepared for, so it’s been a great success.”

More than 300 students signed up to participate on the team from the University of Maryland. Piedmont-Palladino notes that the thousands of Solar Decathlon alumni who have participated in the past are now making their way into the workforce.

“They are taking this expertise and knowledge into a whole range of professions not limited to architecture and engineering,” she says. “My hope is that some day, we’ll see somebody in a Cabinet position who can say they were a Solar Decathlon participant.”

Topics: Building Green, Cost of Ownership, Heating & Cooling, Solar Power

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