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The US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a competition where teams from colleges around the world design and build homes powered solely by the sun. The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013. This year it will take place 8 to 17 October, 2015, at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California.

To take part in the Solar Decathlon, college, university and other post-secondary educational institutions submit proposals for their solar home, which are reviewed, scored and ranked. The homes may not exceed 1000 square feet, but must be at least 600 square feet and the estimated construction costs must be $250,000 or less. The winner is chosen based on the home that shows design excellence and consumer appeal along with affordability, optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. Once chosen, the team gets to work constructing the home at its own local site. Then just prior to the competition, the team disassembles the house and transports it and all of it contents and tools to the competition site, where the house is reassembled.

An electric car in every driveway

Teams are expected to provide an electric vehicle during contest week and the solar home must include the infrastructure needed to charge the vehicle. Teams are also expected to host two dinner parties and one movie night for its neighbors during competition week. Having multiple people (up to eight for each party), puts the houses’ systems to full use including electrical, water, appliances and more.

The competition is judged on 10 separately scored contests, and even some subcontests including:

  • Architecture
  • Market Appeal
  • Engineering
  • Communications
  • Affordability
  • Comfort Zone
  • Appliances
  • Home Life
  • Commuting

Energy Balance

Since 2002, 112 collegiate teams, including 17,000 students, have participated. Students engage in multiple academic disciplines while designing and building energy-efficient, solar-powered houses. Not only is it an excellent educational opportunity, but the Solar Decathlon provides a chance to get trained to enter the workforce. While it initially began as a US-venture only, the Decathlon has added competitions in Europe and China—adding an additional 81 teams and 12,000 students.

Solving real-world problems

Many of the homes in the Solar Decathlon are designed to meet the unique needs of the teams' local area. For example, the Shelter3 (Shelter Cubed) home, built in partnership between Crowder College and Drury University, both based in Missouri, is designed to protect the home's inhabitants from tornados. 

This video explains the three-tiered design of the Shelter3 home, which is based on response, recovery, and resist.

The Sure House from Stevens Institute of Technology is another example of a home designed for the team's local environment. With Stevens Institute located in New Jersey, the home's design is in response to the 2012 Hurricane Sandy. The sustainable home will sit on a bed of pilotis, which are commonly used in flood-prone areas to slightly elevate buildings out of reach of flooding. Durable flood-shielding will be incorporated into the outer layers of the house to create a waterproof shell.

Stevens Institute Sure House

The Sure House by Stevens Institute is built to be resilient against flooding.

The university-led teams competing in Solar Decathlon 2015:

Informing the public

The Solar Decathlon educates the general public about the benefits of sustainability, in addition to serving as an excellent educational opportunity. By constructing affordable homes, they are providing insight into potential new forms of housing for future generations.

The opening ceremony takes place on 8 October from 9:30 to 11 a.m. The Solar Decathlon competition houses will be open, free of charge, to visitors from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily on eight days from Thursday, 8 Oct. through Sunday, 11 Oct., 2015 and from Thursday, 15 Oct. through Sunday, 18 Oct., 2015. The Decathlon closes on Saturday 17 October at 10 a.m. The remaining dates, the Solar Decathlon village will be closed for competition activities.

The Solar Decathlon gives visitors the opportunity to tour solar-powered houses, gather ideas to use in their own homes, and learn how energy-saving features can help them save money today.

As the ultimate showplace of sustainability for the students and for the general public, it is also an excellent opportunity for companies, such as MoxaNRG Solar and Renusol America, which are all partnering with Stevens Institute on its “Sure House”. SolarWorld, Enphase and Revolve Solar are sponsoring the NexusHaus, which is the entry from a US/German collaboration. Sponsoring a house in the Solar Decathlon is a great way to help students maintain the teams’ limited budget for the competition, while also showcasing a company’s products and expertise.

Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today

Labels: Solar Decathlon 2015,solar homes,sustainability,Sure House,NexusHaus,education

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