Solar Decathlon Homes are High Tech

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I once had a solar home. It was the most comfortable home I've ever lived in. It used a combination of passive solar energy and earth berming to stay comfortable all year round without either a furnace or an air conditioner. And this was in southern New Mexico. This was way back in the 80s, when saving energy and reducing your carbon footprint wasn't exactly front page news. If you are looking for energy saving ideas, there are plenty to be found in the 20 homes that were in competition in this year's solar decathlon.

At Solar Decathlon you can get a look at this year's winning solar homes, download building designs, and find a list of the energy efficient products that were used in making these houses.

Solar Decathlon is a contest among 20 college and university teams sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. The teams compete to build the most efficient and attractive solar powered house. Teams strive to innovate, using high-tech materials and ingenious design elements. All the homes are powered completely by the sun.

All the entries are trucked in (each house is limited to 800 square feet) and put on display on the Washington D.C. National Mall during the event.

The winning team this year was Technische Universität Darmstadt, from Germany. The University of Maryland took second, with Santa Clara University coming in third. You can take virtual tours of all 20 entries at Solar Decathlon. Teams also have podcasts available at the site.

Scoring was based on Architecture, Engineering, Market Viability, Communications, Comfort Zone (a steady, uniform temperature and humidity throughout), Appliances, Hot Water (deliver 15 gallons of hot water in ten minutes or less), Lighting, Energy Balance (the balance between energy created and energy consumed) and Getting Around.

 Technische Universitat Darmstadt

First Place: Photo Credit:

About the winning house, the judging results stated:

The Architecture Jury said the house pushed the envelope on all levels and is the type of house they came to the Decathlon hoping to see. The Lighting Jury loved the way this house glows at night. The Engineering Jury gave this team an innovation score that was as high as you could go, and said nobody did the integration of the PV [photovoltaic] system any better. Darmstadt was one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.

Dewita Soeharjono, a Washington D.C. resident, went to the National Mall several times to check out the houses. She commented on the winning house in Metro Diving,

German is leading the solar economy in the world. If you haven't yet seen PBS NOVA's "Saved by the Sun," go and see it. Here is the link, especially the German experiment. It's amazing to see what the Germans do with their solar technology! It is a combination of government's strong intervention - providing clean power incentives that help legion of eco-preneurs get into the business of clean energy. It works.

 University of Maryland

Second Place: Photo Credit:

About the second place house, the judging results stated:

The Communications Jury praised their excellent Web site and house tour. The Architecture Jury said the house definitely belonged in the top tier. The Lighting and Market Viability juries also had high praise. They were one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.

 Santa Clara University

Third Place: Photo Credit:

About the third place house, the judging results stated:

They were one of five teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Hot Water contest and one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.

Each home was attractive and exciting in terms of fresh thinking. Even curmudgeonly Bruce Sterling announced on this Wired blog that the homes are gorgeous. The Santa Clara team earned kudos for its diversity with a headline in Product Global that says, "Team Diversity in Product Development and Design Can Do Wonders." When describing what that diversity actually is, Product Global quotes the Santa Clara University team leader, who said:

Our strength was in the diversity of our team," Bickford said. "We are dominated by engineers, but we brought on communications majors, philosophers, anthropologists, artists.

While the group debated various aspects of the project, "those struggles are what made it a good house," he said. "Those diverse and creative thoughts produced a better product than any one discipline could have by themselves.

In terms of what you can do as a consumer, I mentioned that there is a list of the products on the web site. They also explain the type of solar technology that the houses used.

The Solar Decathlon provides a model to consumers. The teams' solar houses use only energy from the sun to power our modern lifestyle — where we work hard, move fast, and have the luxury of doing what we want, when we want. While these solar houses are on the cutting edge, they also use many tried and true ideas that consumers can incorporate into their everyday lives.

The Solar Decathlon provides consumers the opportunity to witness solar energy alternatives and energy efficiency technologies in action. The teams employ two types of solar energy: solar thermal and solar electric. Solar thermal technologies use collectors to absorb the sun's light energy and change it into heat energy that can be used to generate heated water or for domestic water use, space heating, and space cooling. Solar electric, or photovoltaic (PV), technologies use semiconductor materials to convert sunlight directly to electricity.

Additional Resources:
A list of videos from various sources relating to the Solar Decathlon can be found at Technorati.
Over 1600 photos from a search on solar decathlon 2007 are available at Flickr.
Software used by the Santa Clara team is described at Design News.


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