The Solar Decathlon is a competition in which teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar powered house. The winners of the 2009 competition – the fourth to be held – were announced on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. by U.S. Department of Energy Deputy Secretary Daniel Poneman. The contest is organized by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory and supported by event and team sponsors from the private sector.
This year Team Germany, the student team from Darmstadt, Germany, took top honors by designing, building, and operating the most attractive and efficient solar-powered home. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took second place followed by Team California in third place.
Team Germany’s winning “Cube House” design produced a surplus of power even during three days of rain. This is the team’s second-straight Solar Decathlon victory, after winning the previous competition in 2007.
“This competition to build zero carbon homes has been a tremendous undertaking and we have seen terrific efforts by all the teams,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman said. “The ingenuity that comes from individual effort is the promise of our future.”
The 2009 Solar Decathlon challenged 20 university-led teams from the United States and as far away as Spain, Germany, and Canada to compete in 10 contests, ranging from subjective elements such as architecture, market viability, communications, lighting design, and engineering, to technical measurements of how well the homes provided energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, home entertainment, appliances, and net metering.
New to this year’s competition, the Net Metering Contest was worth 150 points towards the final results and was the most heavily weighted contest. It challenged teams to generate surplus energy, above and beyond the power needed to run a house, which they fed into a power grid.
Team Germany earned 908.29 points out of a possible 1,000 to win the competition, followed by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with 897.30 points, and Team California with 863.08 points.
Solar Decathlon Individual Contest Winners
In the Appliances Contest, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned the most points based on keeping a refrigerators and freezer cold, washing and drying 10 loads of laundry during the contest week, and washing dishes in a dishwasher five times during the competition – all on electricity generated only from sunlight. The team scored 93.53 out of 100 possible points.
Team California took first place in the Architecture contest and earned 98 points out of a possible 100. A jury of architects judged homes on the aesthetic and functional elements of the home’s design; ease of circulation among the public and private areas; integration of various spaces into a holistic design; generosity and sufficiency of space in the house; and the house’s design surprises meant to inspire visitors.
Team Germany topped the contestants in the Comfort Zone contest, with 92 out of 100 points for maintaining indoor temperatures between 72 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit and relative humidity between 40 percent and 55 percent.
Team California won the communications contest. Their communications efforts, including communications plans, student-led tours, and team Web site, were judged best by the jury of Web site and public relations experts with a score of 69.75 points out of a possible 75 points.
The University of Minnesota won the Engineering contest, which was evaluated by a group of prominent engineers, who determined which solar home best exemplified excellence in energy systems design, energy-efficiency savings, creative innovations in design, and reliability of energy systems. The University of Minnesota scored 96 out of a possible 100 points.
The Home Entertainment contest required students to use electricity generated by their solar houses to run interior and exterior lights, a TV, a computer, and a kitchen appliance to boil water. Teams were also required to hold two dinner parties and a movie night for neighbors. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign earned 92.62 out of a possible 100 points.
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took top place in the Hot Water contest’s “shower tests earning the maximum 100 points. This contest aimed to deliver 15 gallons of hot water in ten minutes or less. Of course, the water was heated by the sun.
The University of Minnesota was named the winner of the Lighting contest where teams earned points based on an evaluation by a jury of lighting design experts. Jurors toured each house to evaluate the aesthetics, innovations, energy efficiency, user-friendliness, flexibility, and performance of the teams’ lighting designs. The University of Minnesota earned 72 points out of a possible 75 points.
The University of Louisiana at Lafayette won the Market Viability contest, which evaluated whether the cost-effective construction and solar technology in a team’s design would create a viable product on the open market. Judges gauged market appeal based on three criteria: livability, feasibility of construction, and marketability. The University of Louisiana at Lafayette earned 97 points out of a possible 100 as judged by the professional jury.
Team Germany took the top spot in the crucial, 150-point Net Metering contest. Teams were awarded 100 points if the energy supplied to their home’s two-way electrical meter registered zero or less after all of the energy demands of the contest week. Each house in the 2009 Solar Decathlon was connected to a power grid and equipped with a meter that measured both its consumption and production of energy. When a team’s meter showed a negative number, the home had generated surplus energy – worth up to 50 additional points. Team Germany scored a perfect 150 points in this contest.
The application process for the next Solar Decathlon, to be held in fall 2011, has already begun.
For full event information, current standings, high-resolution photos and videos, an event schedule, and updates, visit the Solar Decathlon website.
© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.