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Solar Decathlon 2009

Credits: ©2009 Solar Decathlon 2009

The Solar Decathlon challenges 20 college teams from around the globe in 10 contests to design, build, and operate the most livable, energy-efficient, and completely solar-powered house. Solar Decathlon houses must power all the home energy needs of a typical family using only the power of the sun. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and optimal efficiency. The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005 and 2007.


Solar Decathlon 2009 Darmstadt Tech Germany

Team Germany's entry is essentially a two-story cube. The outside walls and roof are covered with thin-film solar panels and photovoltaic cells. The team from Darmstadt Technical University expects to produce twice the energy needed to run the house. The team ran two 12-hour shifts on Monday to assemble the house, then installed the wiring the next day. On Wednesday, the house was plugged in and able to send excess energy out onto the electricity grid. ©2009 Jim Watson/AFP-Getty Images

For three weeks in October 2009, the U.S. Department of Energy will host the Solar Decathlon—a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The Solar Decathlon is also an event to which the public is invited to observe the powerful combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design.

Exact dates of the 2009 event are:

* Oct. 8-16—Teams compete in 10 contests

* Oct. 9-13—Houses are open to the public

* Oct. 15-18—Houses are open to the public

* Oct. 19-21—Teams disassemble their houses.

The Solar Decathlon houses will be open for public tours 11 a.m.­–3 p.m. Monday–Friday and 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Please note that all homes will be closed Wed., Oct. 14.

The Solar Decathlon consists of three major phases:
Building: This is where most of the work—and the learning—happens. In addition to designing houses that use innovative, high-tech elements in ingenious ways, students have to raise funds, communicate team activities, collect supplies, and work with contractors. Although the Solar Decathlon competition receives the most attention, it's the hard work that students put in during the building phase that makes or breaks a team.

Moving to the Solar Village: When it's time for the Solar Decathlon, the teams transport their houses to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and rebuild them on site.
Competing: During the competition itself, the teams receive points for their performance in 10 contests and open their homes to the public.


The Solar Decathlon brings attention to one of the biggest challenges we face—an ever-increasing need for energy. As an internationally recognized event, it offers powerful solutions—using energy more efficiently and using energy from renewable sources.

The Solar Decathlon has several goals:

1.To educate the student participants—the "Decathletes"—about the benefits of energy efficiency, renewable energy and green building technologies. As the next generation of engineers, builders, and communicators, the Decathletes will be able to use this knowledge in their studies and their future careers.

2.To raise awareness among the general public about renewable energy and energy efficiency, and how solar energy technologies can reduce energy usage.

3.To help solar energy technologies enter the marketplace faster. This competition encourages the research and development of energy efficiency and energy production technologies.

4.To foster collaboration among students from different academic disciplines—including engineering and architecture students, who rarely work together until they enter the workplace.

5.To promote an integrated or "whole building design" approach to new construction. This approach differs from the traditional design/build process because the design team considers the interactions of all building components and systems to create a more comfortable building, save energy, and reduce environmental impact.

6.To demonstrate to the public the potential of Zero Energy Homes, which produce as much energy from renewable sources, such as the sun and wind, as they consume. Even though the home might be connected to a utility grid, it has net zero energy consumption from the utility provider.

Who competes in the Solar Decathlon?
Twenty teams from colleges and universities across the globe participate in the Solar Decathlon. Today's students are tomorrow's engineers, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs, and homeowners. The Solar Decathlon encourages students to incorporate energy efficiency and solar energy into their future professional projects and personal lives.

Like Olympic athletes, the Solar Decathletes draw on all of their strengths, including design and architecture, engineering and performance, and education and promotion. The teams rely on expertise from many disciplines as they spend months fundraising, planning, designing, analyzing, and finally building and improving their homes. Future engineers work with future architects to create high-performance homes that are also highly attractive.

How are the competitors selected?
Teams composed of faculty and students from numerous post-secondary institutions submit proposals and plans for consideration. The Solar Decathlon Proposal Review Committee assesses these entries and selects teams. The committee consists of engineers, scientists, and other experts from the U.S. Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

In October 2009, 20 teams from colleges and universities from around the world will again gather to compete. See the 2009 Request for Proposals, which might be useful for planning purposes if you are interested in competing in future Solar Decathlons.

What goes into building and operating a Solar Decathlon house?
The student teams spend almost two years designing and building their approximately 800-square-foot homes and preparing for the competition. Students test their homes in contests encompassing all the ways we use energy in our daily lives.

The competition places demands on the buildings' energy systems to maintain the house within a certain temperature range, to provide lighting, to run appliances, and much more. The homes generate energy with photovoltaic (also called solar electric) systems, to produce electricity, and with solar thermal systems for space heating and cooling and water heating.

Who sponsors the Solar Decathlon?
The Solar Decathlon is an educational project of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and is organized by DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and sponsored by the private sector.

What are the 10 contests?
* Architecture — 100 points

* Market Viability — 100 points

* Engineering — 100 points

* Lighting Design — 75 points

* Communications — 75 points

* Comfort Zone — 100 points

* Hot Water — 100 points

* Appliances — 100 points

* Home Entertainment — 100 points

* Net Metering — 150 points

Where can I see the teams' house designs?
The Web site features complete "as-built" drawings and submittals from previous teams, including

* 2007 Technical Resources

* 2005 Technical Report

* 2002 Event in Review (PDF 2.1 MB) Download Adobe Reader.

How much do the houses cost?
The construction costs of the team houses vary widely based on the technologies employed and the target market for which they were designed. In general, however, construction costs range from about $200,000 to more than $800,000. It is important to remember, however, that these houses are one-of-a-kind designs. If they were to be mass-produced, as most residential homes are, their overall costs would likely decrease significantly.

Learn more about Solar Decathlon house construction costs, including individual construction cost ranges and information about how these figures were derived.

What is net metering?
Today, the majority of homes with solar systems are connected to the utility grid through a meter. The flow of electricity is in two directions, giving homeowners the ability to draw electricity from the grid if needed and to give back to the utility grid any excess electricity their homes produce. This is called net metering.

What happens to the houses after the competition?
Some of the homes are sold to recover costs or raise money for future teams. For instance, the 2007 Kansas home was purchased by Sun Edison, which plans to use it as a demonstration home.

Most of the homes, however, are being used for research and are on display for public tours at their respective universities. Missouri Rolla, a participant in all of the Solar Decathlons, has formed a permanent Solar Village with its 2002, 2005, and 2007 houses at the university's Student Design and Experiential Learning Center.

What is a zero-energy home?
A zero-energy home (ZEH) produces as much energy from renewable sources, such as the sun and wind, as it consumes. Even though the home might be connected to a utility grid, it has net-zero energy consumption from the utility provider—usually measured on an annual basis.

What is building-integrated PV technology?
One of the fastest-growing segments of the solar industry, building-integrated photovoltaic (BIPV) technology incorporates PV panels into buildings during construction. BIPV replaces traditional building materials such as roofs, window overhangs, and walls to improve system reliability while reducing costs.


  Solar Decathlon 2009 (1,681 kb)


Solar Decathlon 2009 (Washington DC, USA)

Solar Decathlon