It’s Almost Time for the 2009 Solar Decathlon

Reader Contribution by Anna Flin
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On the morning of Oct. 1, 2009, 20 student teams from universities across the United States and around the world will crowd onto the lawn of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. They will work around the clock for seven days, compete in 10 contests, and, on the ninth day, guide curious tourists and locals through the results of an endeavor the students have been living for the past two years.

It is the fourth, biyearly Solar Decathlon, hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy. Student teams apply and prepare at least two years in advance, meticulously constructing their solar-powered homes at their sponsoring universities, then disassembling them, transporting them to D.C. and reassembling them on the National Mall, where they will be judged in the following 10 categories: 

1. Architecture
2. Market Viability
3. Engineering
4. Lighting Design
5. Communications
6. Comfort Zone
7. Hot Water
8. Appliances
9. Home Entertainment
10. Net Metering 

In a recent webinar providing information about the upcoming event and requesting volunteers, Director Richard King shared his enthusiasm about the decathlon, and pointed out that the original motivation for the project was a need to integrate aesthetics with reliable technology. The DOE reached out to architectural universities to develop this possibility. The result is a temporary village consisting of beautiful, structurally sound, energy-efficient homes.

But the vision doesn’t dim when the houses are disassembled on Oct. 21. King noted that the buildings are always placed in a permanent location after the competition, with many being housed on their sponsoring campuses as educational facilities. 

The University of Darmstadt, Germany took first place in 2007, with a deceptively box-like structure discovered to be enclosed with tri-fold, floor-to-ceiling doors. It was followed by the University of Maryland in second place, and Santa Clara University in third. 

This year, eight teams will return from 2007 and one from 2005. They will be joined by 11 new teams. We’ll be keeping you updated as the teams reach D.C., begin assembly and are judged on the overall quality of their solar-powered homes.

Pictured above: The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign 2007 Solar Decathlon house. Photo by DOE/NREL/JIM TETRO