Saturday, September 17, 2011

Solar Decathlon

What the heck is the Solar Decathlon? Awesomeness.

And you can see it September 23 - October 2 in Washington, DC.

A week from today MSB will take me there. And I can't wait.

The Solar Decathlon is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). It is a competition challenging collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar powered houses that are cost efficient, energy efficient, and attractive. The bottom line is that in addition to all the fancy energy management and efficiency and use of environmentally sustainable materials, the houses have to be places you would actually want to live in.

Photo from USDOE Solar Decathlon website.

The first competition was held in 2002. It has occurred biennially in 2005, 2007 and 2009 and will take place once again this year 2011 from September 23 to October 2 on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It is free, open to the public and you can tour all the houses in the competition.

The teams construct their houses on the Mall and set them up so that all the systems are functioning. The houses are up for a week and during this time there are times when you can tour the homes and times when workshops are set up about different energy efficiency and house design and construction topics. Check out the schedule here. During this week the houses get reviewed and judged by the official reviewers and by the end of the week winners are selected.

Photo from USDOE Solar Decathlon website.

If you know your Greek history, "decathlon" was a combined event in athletics consisting of TEN track and field events. The Solar Decathlon carries on that tradition with ten events for this design and building competition. Each contest is worth up to 100 points for a total scoring on 1000 points. Teams are judged on (1) architecture; (2) market appeal; (3) engineering; (4) communications; (5) affordability; (6) comfort zone; (7) hot water; (8) appliances; (9) home entertainment; (10) energy balance. The winning house has to be affordable, attractive and easy to live in; be comfortable and have a healthy indoor environment; supply energy for the house's cooking, cleaning and entertainment needs; provide adequate hot water; and produce as much or more energy than it consumes.

There are 21 teams this year, from the US and New Zealand, Belgium, Canada, China. Since the first competition in 2002, 92 collegiate teams have been involved. When schools apply and are accepted, they then spend two years preparing their designs for the competition. Now there are other Solar Decathlon events in Europe and China too.

I attended this event many years ago - I think I saw the one in 2005 - and it blew me away. It really stuck with me and I have wanted to go again. Well, this year the Byway is finally taking us to DC just for one day, specifically to see this competition. As we are in the process of building a house in the desert that is completely off-grid (no ready made power, water or telecommunications), I am excited to see if we find some creative ideas from the house tours.

People this event is awesome! If you have any interest in home design and building, this is a fascinating event to see. Some of our best and brightest young minds producing new ideas to improve home building and energy use. Twenty-one different teams with houses that you can tour for free! Check out the teams' videos on YouTube introducing their houses. You can access them via Facebook here. Trust me though, seeing the real thing is better.

I hope you get a chance to check it out, but if you can't, MSB will be posting photos and writing about it soon, so stay tuned. And if you can't make it to this year's competition, set your sights to attend the next one in 2013.

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