Solar Decathlon: University teams take on solar design
The winner! The high-tech home designed by Technische Universitat Darmstadt used louvers on the doors and windows with embedded solar panels.
The University of Maryland’s LEAFHouse took second place in the 2007 Solar Decathlon. The team drew inspiration from what they saw as the “ultimate solar collector,” the leaf
Team Montreal’s home consists of a special structural steel frame that is easy to assemble and disassemble, allowing the students to put together the house quickly, as they did on Oct. 5 in preparation for the start of the Solar Decathlon.
Texas A&M University’s solar-powered home incorporates interchangeable rooms so that occupants can change the home to suit their needs, a feature the team shared with visitors to the Solar Decathlon.
German school upsets defending champsOriginally published November 2007 Compiled by the Green Magazine staff
The team from the University of Colorado pinned its hopes on a compelling new design that responded to the changing energy needs of the American West to win the Solar Decathlon title for the third time in a row, but they weren’t counting on the outstanding design and performance of the house designed by Germany’s Technische Universität Darmstadt.
The Darmstadt team took top honors in the Engineering and Architecture contests, and the students’ winning design used several creative innovations, including louvers on doors and windows with built-in solar collectors.
Technische Universität Darmstadt earned 888.45 points out of a possible 1,200 to win the competition, followed by University of Maryland with 872.45 points and Santa Clara University with 860.80 points.
The University of Colorado team won the first Solar Decathlon competition in 2002, and returned in 2005 to take the top prize again, but this year’s team, led by the College of Engineering and Applied Science, couldn’t pull out a three-peat.
The 20 teams in this year’s competition, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, came from the U.S. and as far away as Puerto Rico, Spain, Germany, and Canada. Their goal was to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home.
Not only are the Solar Decathlon’s homes net-zero-energy, they yield zero carbon and include the latest high-tech solutions and money-saving benefits to consumers, without sacrificing comfort, convenience, and aesthetics. Each house must also produce enough “extra” energy to power an electric vehicle. Many of the solar power and building technologies showcased in the homes are currently available for purchase and use.
Student teams spend two years designing, building, testing
Student teams of 20 to 50 architecture, engineering, business, design, and communications students and faculty worked for more than two years designing, building, and testing their homes.
In October, they disassembled the homes and transported them to the National Mall, where they put them back together and opened them to the public and the judges. They competed in 10 areas, ranging from architecture, livability, and comfort, to how well the homes provide energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, lighting, and appliances.
Homes help educate consumers
The Solar Decathlon provides consumers the opportunity to witness solar energy alternatives and energy efficiency technologies in action. The teams employ two types of solar energy: solar thermal and solar electric. Solar thermal technologies use collectors to absorb the sun’s light energy and change it into heat energy that can be used to generate heated water or for domestic water use, space heating, and space cooling. Solar electric, or photovoltaic (PV), technologies use semiconductor materials to convert sunlight directly to electricity.
10 contests measure homes’ performance
The 10 contests that make up the Solar Decathlon measure many aspects of a home’s performance and appearance.
• In the Comfort Zone Contest teams design their houses to maintain a steady, uniform, comfortable temperature and humidity throughout. University of Illinois took first place; Team Montreal second; and University of Texas at Austin third.
• In the Appliances Contest the houses are required to reproduce appliance energy use in the average U.S. home, which includes maintaining prescribed temperature ranges in their refrigerators and freezers, washing and drying towels, cooking and serving meals, running a dishwasher, and operating a TV/video player and a computer. Texas A&M University took first place; Santa Clara University second; and Technische Universität Darmstadt third.
• The Hot Water Contest demonstrates that solar hot water systems can supply all the hot water that households use daily for bathing, laundry, and dishwashing. Five Decathlon teams earned the maximum 100 points in the hot water contest shower tests, which aimed to deliver 15 gallons of hot water in 10 minutes or less. There were Santa Clara University, Penn State, Universidad de Puerto Rico, the Kansas Project (Kansas State University and University of Kansas), and University of Texas at Austin.
• In the Energy Balance Contest teams are required to use only the energy generated by the solar electric systems (also called photovoltaic or “PV” systems) on their houses during the competition. Seven teams achieved a perfect score in this contest.
• In the Getting Around Contest a street-legal, commercially-available electric vehicle is powered with the house’s solar electric system. Points are awarded based on how many miles each team completes. The University of Colorado took first place; Santa Clara University second; and Georgia Institute of Technology third.
• In the Lighting Contest teams earn points based on meeting specific lighting requirements in each room of their solar-powered home. Contest officials measured lighting levels both day and night; lighting design experts toured each house to evaluate the aesthetics, innovation and performance of the teams’ lighting designs. The University of Maryland earned 79.81 points out of a possible 100.
• The Market Viability Contest evaluates a home’s market appeal, cost-effective construction and integration of solar technology into its design. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign won with 114.35 points out of a possible 150 as judged by the professional jury.
• The Engineering Contest measured excellence in the design of heating and air conditioning systems, refrigeration, and lighting. Technische Universität Darmstadt scored 136.40 out of a possible 150 points.
• In the Architecture Contest a jury of architects judged homes on ease of entry into the house and circulation among the public and private areas; architectural strategy used to accommodate the technologies required to run the house; and generosity and sufficiency of space in the house as well as the house’s strength, suitability and appropriateness of materials in the building. Technische Universität Darmstadt was named the winner of the Architecture Contest with 193.25 points out of a possible 200.
• In the Communications Contest, the University of Maryland’s communications efforts, including on-site signage, student-led tours, and team website, were judged best by the jury with a score of 98.2 points out of a possible 100.
What the judges had to say
Here is what the judges had to say about the overall winners.
First Place: Technische Universität Darmstadt This team from Germany came to the Solar Decathlon hoping to have an impact on people, and it’s safe to say that this happened. Darmstadt won the Architecture, Lighting, and Engineering contests. The Architecture Jury said the house pushed the envelope on all levels and is the type of house they came to the Decathlon hoping to see. The Lighting Jury loved the way this house glows at night. The Engineering Jury gave this team an innovation score that was as high as you could go, and said nobody did the integration of the PV system any better. Darmstadt was one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest. All week, long lines of people waited to get into this house.
Second Place: University of Maryland At the beginning of the week, people wondered if the Maryland team would have a home-field advantage because they are so close to Washington, D.C. As the week progressed, and Maryland won the Communications contest and was second in Architecture, Market Viability, and Lighting, it became clear that Maryland didn’t need any advantage. The Communications Jury praised their excellent Web site and house tour. The Architecture Jury said the house definitely belonged in the top tier. The Lighting and Market Viability juries also had high praise. They were one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest.
Third Place: Santa Clara University This team wanted to build a sustainable solar house that is functional, elegant, and innovative—and they did just that. The Communications Jury lauded their friendly, enthusiastic house tour, which was informative, entertaining, and very much “on target” for public audiences. They were one of five teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Hot Water contest and one of seven teams to score a perfect 100 points in the Energy Balance contest. Their house almost didn’t make it to the Solar Decathlon, because their transport truck broke an axle and delayed them by three days.
After the Decathlon
When the Solar Decathlon competition finished in Washington, D.C., most of the teams took their houses back to their campuses to use them for research.
The University of Illinois entry, known as “elementhouse,” will eventually be used for research, too, but first it will make a stop in Chicago. During November, the house will be on exhibit in the “backyard” of the Chicago Center for Green Technology at 445 N. Sacramento Blvd. The Center is a non-profit organization established by Mayor Daley in 2002 to provide education and promote green building and energy and resource conservation. The UI house will be open to the public for tours and will be a tour opportunity for attendees at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, being held in Chicago November 7-9.
The house built by the University of Colorado team was pre-purchased by Xcel Energy. The energy company will use the 2,100-square-foot house as a public educational outreach and testing facility for solar energy and energy efficiency.
How does a team get into the Solar Decathlon?
Teams are selected through a proposal process. For the 2009 competition, an invitation will be sent out on October 12, 2007, and posted on the Solar Decathlon’s web site.
Every college or university interested in participating must write a proposal describing how they will organize a team, design and build a house, and raise the funds necessary to have a successful entry. The 20 best proposals will be selected for entry and awarded $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy. Teams are responsible for raising any additional funds necessary for their entries.
For more information, visit the Solar Decathlon’s web site.