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Solar Decathlon 2015

The Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition made up of 10 contests that challenge student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses. The winning team blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential, and energy and water efficiency—and they are able to communicate their message through social media, signage and other vehicles. The Solar Decathlon began in 2002, and takes place every other year in the United States. It has also expanded internationally and now takes place in Africa, China, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

This year the Solar Decathlon is being held in Denver, Colorado (US) from October 9 to 15, and is open to public on specific days, when people can experience a live demonstration of sustainable design, clean energy technologies, smart home solutions, water conservation measures, electric vehicles and more.

Each team has worked hard over a period of two years, designing and constructing their home on their campus. Then they dismantle the house, pack it all up and transport it to Denver, where it is reassembled and readied for competition. Just competing in the Solar Decathlon is a feat in itself. Here we briefly describe each home and what sets it apart:

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Sinatra Living combines “smart home” technologies with sustainable design to demonstrate an appealing and comfortable “age-in-place” house. In designing the home, the team conducted an AARP focus group, and used virtual reality and board displays to walk people representing their target market through the house to obtain feedback on design and accessibility features.

University of Nevada, Las Vegas

The house has a solar PV array that capitalizes on the Las Vegas region’s abundant sunshine, and it includes design features to protect occupants from summer heat in the event of power failure. The house also has the capability to collect and re-use water for irrigation.  An open layout, adjustable countertops and shelves, slip-resistant flooring, and fall detection sensors are designed to make the house safe and comfortable for any resident with mobility, visual, or cognitive impairments.

University of Maryland

reACT (resilient adaptive climate technology) is designed as a prototype for Native American communities. The “kit-of-parts” modular house includes systems that capture solar energy and rainwater and turn waste into useful resources.

University of Maryland

Flanking modules plug into a central mechanical core, which manages the flow of water, air and energy, and a central courtyard extends the living space and doubles as a solar heat collector. With a composting system, hydroponic garden, vegetable garden, and movable “living walls” covered in plants, reACT also demonstrates urban farming. After the competition, the team plans to partner with housing industry leaders to produce houses based on the competition prototype for tribal communities (including the St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin, the San Carlos Apache Tribe in Arizona, and the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in Delaware).

Missouri University of Science and Technology

SILO (Smart Innovative Living Oasis) is designed for empty nesters, blending traditional farmhouse architecture, smart home technology and renewable energy storage to create a net-zero energy home. The house includes a residential energy storage system, consisting of an 8.5 kW solar electric array and six storage batteries with internal microinverters.


Occupants can control and monitor this system with their smartphones. The house’s lighting, heating, fans and motorized window controls are all integrated to optimize energy efficiency, and occupants can use voice commands to control the thermostat, lights, fans and clerestory windows from anywhere in the house. The student-designed Anduino system tracks temperature, humidity, and carbon dioxide levels and provides instant feedback to occupants through an intuitive app. After the competition, SILO will return to Missouri, and join the previous six Solar Decathlon entries as part of Missouri S&T’s Eco-Village, serving as student housing.

University of Applied Science, Utrect, Netherlands

Selficient is a modular home built using the concept of LEGO toys. Using the wall panels as “blocks,” homeowners can tailor a house to fit their needs, whether they need to scale up or down. The target homeowner is a “Doorstromer,” which is a Dutch term for a person in a transitional stage in life—in this case it is a young person looking to start a family and possibly need more room in the home.


On top of the modular house design, the team has connected the entire house to the “Internet of Things” industry by connecting heat, water and other utilities to the owner’s smartphone through a Domotica home automation system. A Schneider Electric battery and inverter system will act as the smart battery for the house; storing energy produced from the solar panels, protecting the house from outages and returning power to the grid when there is excess.


Enable house is designed for aging baby boomers living in Chicago’s North Shore. It features an integrated solar PV roofing and modular interior walls, made from recycled MDF fitted into aluminum frames that can adapt to occupant’s changing needs.


To help guide their design, the team interviewed people within their target market and they created imaginary clients. The team implemented a comprehensive approach to maintaining indoor air quality, which includes an energy recovery ventilation system, a photocatalytic surface treatment that breaks down airborne pollutants and improves air quality, an air quality monitoring system and indoor house plants carefully selected for their ability to help purify the air. After the Decathlon, the home will return to Illinois to serve as a hub for local partnerships related to environmental and sustainability education.

Swiss Team

NeighborHub house is the creation of a team from École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne + School of Engineering and Architecture Fribourg + Geneva University of Art and Design + University of Fribourg, Switzerland.  Rather than being a home, this building is designed as community space in a suburban neighborhood.

Swiss Team

The home was designed with multifunction in mind with multipurpose spaces created in a layered fashion. Even the façades are also multipurpose with solar panels, plants, aquaponics, and a solar dryer. In addition to a photovoltaic system, the team is also using dye-sensitized “Gratzel” solar cells to generate electricity and team-built solar thermal panels for hot water and space heating. A dry toilet uses worms to recycle waste. After the Decathlon, the home will return to Switzerland, where it will become part of the smart living lab, which is part of the Swiss Living Challenge.

Team Alabama

The Surviv(AL) House is designed and built by a team from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Calhoun Community College. Inspired by the devastating impact of the 2011 tornado super outbreak on the region, this house is intended to serve as a model for sustainable, resilient housing for severe weather-prone communities.


The house has a safe room with tornado panels made to FEMA standards to withstand 250-mph winds. It also makes use of natural cooling through cross-ventilation and shaded parches and canopies. A liquid desiccant system and solar collector dehumidify the air. After the Decathlon, the Surviv(AL) House will return to the Alabama campus, where it will become part of the first living lab in the region.

Team Daytona Beach

The Beach House is the creation of a team from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Daytona State College.

Daytona Beach

Designed for future Gen-X retirees, the design was inspired by the Hemingway House in Key West with ADA compliance in mind as well as state-of-the-art sustainable living features such as a 9.3kW solar array, hydroponic garden and a three-zone ductless HVAC system. After the Decathlon the home will go to the Orlando, Florida National Homebuilders Association in January 2018.

UC Berkeley/University of Denver

The RISE house at the Solar Decathlon is just one of five units designed to support Richmond, California’s transition from suburban to dense urban living. As the name suggests, the house can rise up to three stories, with five units in all for multifamily living.

UCBerkeley UDenver

The house has a green wall of moss on its north side, intended to sequester carbon and clean the air. Walls, floor and ceiling are filled with non-toxic sheep’s wool insulation. Movable walls on tracks allow for flexible living arrangements. After the Decathlon the house will return to Richmond, California where it will be donated to the Richmond Community Foundation’s housing renovation program and sold to a first-time homebuyer.

UC Davis

OUR H2OUSE, pronounced “Our House” was designed to dramatically reduce potable water usage to help California residents prepare for drought. It supplements water and energy efficient technologies with feedback displays to help occupants improve their own behavior. The feedback includes a comparison with the use in the larger community, encouraging sustained conservation for the home’s occupants as well as the community.

UC Davis

The 12-inch envelope of the house is made of a bamboo-based panelized wall system. After the Decathlon the house will join UC Davis’s Aggie Sol 2015 entry as on-campus housing, and it will act as a platform for testing and optimizing new and experimental home technologies.

Washington University—St. Louis

The Crete House is made of precast concrete and supports sustainable food production irrigated by harvested rainwater. The house is designed for resilience, protecting against fire, moisture and mold, insects, seismic evens and extreme weather.

Washington University Crete House

The Crete House includes a water-to-water heat pump and radiant heating and cooling system in the walls and floors. The team expects the house to have a lifecycle of 90 years or more. After the Decathlon, the Crete House will be the first building in a planned eco-village of zero-energy-ready buildings at the Tyson Research Center in Eureka, Missouri.

Washington State


Responding to the housing crunch that is affecting so many Pacific Northwest cities and taking cues from the “tiny house” movement, EnCity is a “pocket” community designed for urban infill lots. The community of tiny homes shares infrastructure, including a “micro-grid” that manages collected solar energy and rainwater and distributes these resources among the residents.

Washington State

The tiny homes are to be constructed using cross-laminated timbers that have been treated with shou sugi ban, a traditional Japanese technique that renders the wood resistant to insects and fire. The decks are made of composite decking boards made from recycled wind turbine blades. After the Decathlon the EnCity house will go to Spokane, Washington and become part of the SmartCity exhibit sponsored by Avista.

Unfortunately the Washington State team had to drop out of the competition at the last minute due to logistical issues, but we kept them in this listing to highlight the hard work they did to prepare for the competition.

Written by Anne Fischer, Managing Editor, Solar Novus Today

Labels: Solar Decathlon,Denver,Colorado,education,solar installation,sustainability,electric vehicle

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