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Denver, Colorado
October 5-15, 2017

Solar Decathlon News Blog

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon News Blog provides regular updates about Solar Decathlon news and events. Learn what's happening now, and let us know what you think by leaving a comment.

Around the World with Solar Decathlon

November 30, 2016

By Linda Silverman

Photo of a house at dusk.

This house was designed and constructed by students from Missouri University of Science and Technology as part of Solar Decathlon 2015 in California. | Photo by Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition now spans five continents – from the United States to Spain, France, Colombia, Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, to China – bringing together collegiate teams from around the world to address some of the most pressing global energy issues of our time.

Last month, the U.S. Department of Energy signed Memorandums of Understanding to launch two new competitions. The first Solar Decathlon Africa will take place in Morocco in 2019, and the second Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean will be in Colombia in 2018.

Solar Decathlon has grown in popularity since its inception in 2002, and now sheds light on solutions to energy challenges around the globe. The student teams competing in Solar Decathlon are made up of tomorrow’s engineers, architects, researchers, and policy makers. They are highly motivated and spend two years problem-solving and creating sustainable homes of the future.

As a robust workforce training platform, Solar Decathlon prepares students to become our next generation of industry professionals that will seek jobs in their respective fields.

Similar to the Olympics’ event, Solar Decathlon consists of 10 contests, ranging from architecture and engineering to energy performance, water conservation and communications. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential, energy, and water efficiency.

Teams strive for innovation while demonstrating cost-effective technologies that homeowners can use immediately to save energy and money.

For a country like Morocco, the competition aligns with its goal of reaching 42% of its total installed electricity generation capacity with renewable energy resources by 2020 and 52% by 2030. Morocco has been in contact with several universities in Africa that have already expressed interest in participating in this event. A call for proposals to participate in Solar Decathlon Africa will take place in 2017.

Internationally, each event is tailored to the host country’s unique economic and environmental circumstances. For example, in the Middle East, the competing teams must adapt their designs to the region’s heat, dust, and high humidity, while teams competing in China must take multifamily and high-density urban lifestyles into account. Upcoming Solar Decathlons will add to the more than 200 houses that have already competed in Solar Decathlons.

The Solar Decathlon China (SDC) is set for August 2017 in Dezhou, Shandong. It features a net-zero energy site, net-zero carbon emission, and net-zero water waste park with education, entertainment, and exhibition functions. The Solar Decathlon Middle East (SDME) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, will be held in 2018. The 22 teams planning to compete have students representing 37 universities and 16 countries.

The eighth U.S. event, Solar Decathlon 2017, will be held Oct. 5-15, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. It will feature a sustainability expo, professional development and consumer workshops, middle school education events, and a community festival. Visitors are welcome to tour the teams’ houses for free, as well as visit the expo to gather ideas to use in their own homes.

Each Solar Decathlon competition involves thousands of university students and tens of thousands of visitors. The Solar Decathlon format is an award-winning vehicle for workforce development, clean energy outreach, education, and technology demonstration.

Georgia Institute of Technology Withdraws From Solar Decathlon 2017

November 22, 2016

Today, Solar Decathlon organizers announced that Georgia Institute of Technology has withdrawn from the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017.

“I am sorry to hear that Georgia Tech will not be participating in the upcoming competition,” said Linda Silverman, Solar Decathlon director. “This group of 24 students and faculty advisors developed innovative ideas related to smart water use and community health for a global city like Atlanta. I’m sure that they will continue working to create a better world.”

Photo of a group of students on a staircase.

The Georgia Tech Solar Decathlon 2017 team was a collaborative effort between architecture and engineering students.

Members of the Georgia Tech team indicated that they faced insurmountable challenges related to a lack of curricular support and funding resources. Unfortunately, these limitations will prevent them from meeting the rigorous competition requirements.

“The team’s vision of creating a sustainable housing solution for water-challenged regions of the United States will continue beyond the competition, and the lessons learned through our ten months of participation in the Solar Decathlon will set us up for success in the future,” said Alex Poux, the student team leader, on behalf of the Georgia Tech Solar Decathlon Team. “Our partners and sponsors support our decision, and we are grateful for the catalyst that the Solar Decathlon has provided.”

Georgia Tech’s official withdrawal letter stated that the team is “better prepared to more effectively navigate the requirements in the future.” We look forward to seeing this wonderful university represented at a Solar Village in the future—whether as visitors to Denver in October 2017 or as participants in another competition at home or abroad.

The modified Solar Decathlon 2017 team roster is:

  • University of Nevada, Las Vegas
  • University of Maryland
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • HU University of Applied Science Utrecht
  • Northwestern University
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, School of Engineering and Architecture Fribourg, Geneva University of Art and Design, and the University of Fribourg
  • University of Alabama at Birmingham; University of Alabama, Huntsville; and Calhoun Community College
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Daytona State College
  • University of California at Berkeley
  • University of California, Davis
  • Washington University
  • Washington State University
  • West Virginia University.

“We wish continued success for the remaining Solar Decathlon teams,” Poux said.

Energy Department Secretary Ernest Moniz Signs Memorandum of Understanding with Morocco for Solar Decathlon Africa Competition in 2019

November 15, 2016

Today, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Secretary Ernest Moniz and Minister Moulay Hafid Elalamy, Ministry of Energy, Mines, Water, and Environment (MEMEE) and Director Badr Ikken of the Research Institute in Solar Energy and New Energies (IRESEN) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaborate in the development of a Solar Decathlon Africa competition in 2019.

The officials signed the agreement during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP22), where international leaders have been meeting the last week to discuss climate change action. This is the first successor conference to the successful Paris Agreement. Under the MOU signed today, DOE will assist in the development of the first Solar Decathlon in Africa.

DOE launched the competition in 2002, which challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive solar-powered houses. Teams compete in 10 contests, similar to the Olympics’ Decathlon, ranging from architecture and engineering to home appliance performance and electric vehicle charging. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential, and energy and water efficiency. Students involved in the teams lead free tours of their houses, allowing regional future leaders to educate and inspire the public on clean energy and sustainable design.

Under the MOU signed today, both countries will exchange information regarding rules, scoring, judging, safety, and site and team selection for the 2019 Solar Decathlon event in Africa. The government of Morocco will establish a framework for the competition in collaboration with DOE. Both nations will contribute members to an oversight committee, which will approve plans and activities, and evaluate success of the program. Since 2010, DOE began permitting the use of the “Solar Decathlon” brand name to international partners in France, Spain, China, Colombia, and the United Arab Emirates.

For Morocco, the new competition will align with its goal of reaching 42 percent of its total installed electricity generation capacity with renewable energy resources by 2020 and 52 percent by 2030. Currently, officials report that renewable energy accounts for 34 percent of domestic power generation. Morocco has been in contact with several universities in Africa that have already expressed interest in participating in this event. A call for applications will be held in 2017. Each Solar Decathlon competition involves hundreds of university students and tens of thousands of visitors that tour the houses. Its format is an award-winning vehicle for workforce development, clean energy outreach, and technology demonstration.

Seven Solar Decathlon events have been held in the United States since 2002. The next Solar Decathlon will be held Oct. 5, 2017 in Denver, Colorado. For detailed information and high-resolution photos, visit the COP22 website, as well as the Solar Decathlon website.

Solar-Powered Houses Take Starring Role in Denver’s Community of Tomorrow

October 5, 2016

By Linda Silverman

Zero-emission electric vehicles charge along the street. People walk along LED-lighted sidewalks. A commuter train drops travelers off from the airport to enjoy dinner at a corner café. And the houses? They’re entirely powered by sunshine.

This might sound like a scene from the distant future, but it’s not as far away as you think. Exactly one year from today, Solar Decathlon 2017 will kick off in Denver. The biennial competition challenges teams of college students from around the country to design, build and operate beautiful solar-powered houses that are ultra-energy efficient and balance innovation with cost effectiveness. Fourteen Solar Decathlon student teams are now hard at work refining their initial plans for houses designed to provide shelter after disasters, conserve water and achieve other goals.

Artist rendering of Peña Station Next.

This artist rendering shows Peña Station Next in Denver, where Solar Decathlon 2017 will take place exactly one year from today. | Image courtesy of City and County of Denver.

The Solar Decathlon houses will join the landscape at Peña Station Next, a burgeoning “smart city” between downtown Denver and the airport that city planners began mapping out several years ago. The plan calls for adding 1.5 million square feet of corporate office space, 500,000 square feet of retail stores, 2,500 solar-powered residential units, and 1,500 hotel rooms to the space separating the vibrant urban hub from the nation’s largest airport in total land area.

The foundation is already taking shape. In April, the publicly operated Regional Transportation District (RTD) opened the University of Colorado A line route, which zips workers, residents and tourists alike between Union Station and Denver International Airport via train at speeds of nearly 80 miles per hour.

The University of Colorado A Line, operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and Denver Transit Partners (DTP), is changing how people experience and access the Mile High City. | Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport.

The University of Colorado A Line, operated by the Regional Transportation District (RTD) and Denver Transit Partners (DTP), is changing how people experience and access the Mile High City. | Photo courtesy of Denver International Airport.

Panasonic’s innovation arm, Panasonic Enterprises, joined forces with the City of Denver to act as the corporate anchor at the Peña Station Next development. The company aims to take a similar approach as it did with the Sustainable Smart Town project in Fujisawa, Japan, which features solar energy on every rooftop, bike and foot paths, electric vehicle charging stations, wireless internet, and a three-day supply of battery-stored renewable power.

Denver’s concept aligns with the Energy Department’s goal of powering the nation with clean, affordable and diversified energy resources that reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. We’re proud to partner with the City of Denver as we count down to Solar Decathlon and help shape a brighter, more sustainable future. Go to SolarDecathlon.gov to learn more.

Linda Silverman is director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Über Smart Eco-Inventions Designed by Students

September 23, 2016

By Alexis Powers

Imagine building a single-family house with only hand-powered tools. Sounds crazy, right? Well, students from Clemson University built not just one such house, but two. They built a local version to stay in South Carolina and a traveling version to demonstrate this concept at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 competition. Their Sim[PLY] construction method allows an average person to assemble pre-cut, numbered components with just stainless steel zip ties. It’s like a three-dimensional puzzle of a 1,000-square-foot home…that’s also a totally livable home.

Students from Clemson University developed the Sim[PLY] structural building system, which uses a milling machine to cut plywood according to computer-generated cutting instructions. Photo from Clemson University Solar Decathlon 2015 Team

Students from Clemson University developed the Sim[PLY] structural building system, which uses a milling machine to cut plywood according to computer-generated cutting instructions. Photo from Clemson University Solar Decathlon 2015 Team

If your mind isn’t blown yet, now imagine a window shade that is activated by the sun’s heat—no cords, wands, or tabs needed. This kind of responsive architecture was just one component of an ecologically responsible house designed for the 2013 competition by students from the Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University. Their house, designed specifically for returning U.S. military veterans, used a network of activity sensors to analyze the lifestyle habits of its residents and recommend therapeutic solutions.

Photo of the exterior of the Team Capitol DC house.

Team Capitol DC developed an adaptable shading screen that improves energy performance in response to the exterior climate conditions. Photo from Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

While we’re at it, how about we eliminate clumsy, antiquated technologies such as light switches and remote controls? The Solar Decathlon 2011 team from the Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology programmed an Xbox Kinect system to be the command center of their eco-conscious home. Here, residents could use gestures to operate appliances and lights or turn on the TV just by sitting on the couch. This internet-connected house was even capable of conserving power generated by its solar panels if the forecast called for cloudy weather. Such smart home devices are still impressive five years later as the internet of things concept gains a foothold in today’s market.

Photo of a house diagram displayed on an iPad.

Students from the SCI-Arc/Caltech team designed an iPad app to control the lights, appliances, and entertainment system of their house during the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 competition. Photo from Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A comprehensive list of student ingenuity would go on and on. There’s the geopolymer concrete developed by UNC Charlotte students that replaces the conventional binding material responsible for 5%–8% of the worldwide carbon footprint with a waste product from coal production. There’s also the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York’s Growlarium that essentially puts a greenhouse around a regular house, then ventilates it automatically for efficiency, comfort, and year-round vegetation production. There are enough examples to complete dissertations and start companies, both of which have been done in several cases.

A canopy covering the enclosed portion of the University at Buffalo team’s GRoW Home serves as a trellis for plants, shades the house and deck to reduce cooling loads, and provides outdoor living space. Photo from Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A canopy covering the enclosed portion of the University at Buffalo team’s GRoW Home serves as a trellis for plants, shades the house and deck to reduce cooling loads, and provides outdoor living space. Photo from Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

A major goal of the Energy Department and the Solar Decathlon is to speed up delivery of emerging technologies to the marketplace. While student-driven innovation has always been present at each biennial event, the 2017 competition will feature a new Innovation Contest for the first time. With cash prizes on the line, Solar Decathlon 2017 motivates students to exercise originality, solution-driven thinking, and impact analysis like never before.

Teams participating in Solar Decathlon 2017 are now hard at work designing houses powered entirely by the sun. On September 15, the students submitted their second set of deliverables to competition organizers. Although specific details won’t likely be revealed until closer to the start of the competition on October 5, 2017, follow Solar Decathlon on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to see these ideas develop in the meantime. Prepare to be inspired.

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