Students Let the Sun Shine In

Bright ideas on solar-powered living take over the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

For the first time in the history of the Solar Decathlon competition, a European team has taken top honors. German students from Technische Universitat Darmstadt beat out 19 other collegiate teams in the Department of Energy’s third Solar Decathlon held on the National Mall in Washington D.C. from October 12 – 20. The competition invited colleges and universities from around the country and around the world to build and operate prototype zero-carbon homes using the latest in solar and sustainable technology. Stretching four blocks and flanking both sides of the Mall, each home in the Solar Village had to power itself using only the sun over the two-week trial, and also had to generate enough energy to fuel an electric car. Over the course of the competition, judges assessed the homes in ten categories ranging from architecture and engineering to energy balance and comfort.

The teams were supported in part by a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), up from the $10,000 offered in the 2005 competition. Alexander Karsner, Assistant Secretary for DOE, says that the additional fiscal support indicates just how valuable this competition is to national energy research. “This is the most important thing that we do,” Karsner says. “Think about that. Of all the things that we research at the Department of Energy, from the human genome to national defense, this is the most important.”

And with the built environment being the leader in green house gas emissions and energy consumption, Karsner added that the technologies and designs tested in these solar homes would help the U.S. reach its goal of making solar energy cost competitive with fossil fuel energy by 2015. This year, copies of the housing designs will also be given to the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to help bring these technologies to a mass market faster.

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In addition to the students, judges, and professionals on site, over 120,000 people waited in long lines for public tours of the homes. “We want this event to continue to educate the students who are our future leaders and will carry this technology forth, but we also want to educate the marketplace,” says Richard King, Director of the Solar Decathlon. “Builders aren’t going to build these kinds of homes if we don’t have the market and this event helps the market to grow.”

Click here to see a selection of houses from the Solar Village and find out more about the projects.

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