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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.

Balance of Power: Solar Decathlon Contest Requires Energy Efficiency and Power Production

July 17, 2014

By Carol Laurie

Not consuming energy is better than buying or producing it—even when that energy is generated by clean, renewable solar. That’s the message the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 is sending to decathletes through the Energy Balance Contest, which measures the energy each team house produces and consumes over the course of the competition.

The contest is divided into two subcontests: energy production and energy consumption. To earn full points in the energy production subcontest, teams must produce at least as much energy as they consume, achieving a net electrical energy balance of at least 0 kWh. Reduced points are earned for a net electrical energy balance between -50 kWh and 0 kWh. For the energy consumption subcontest, teams must limit their electrical energy consumption to 175 kWh over the course of the contest. This consumption level is significantly less than that of a comparably-sized, newly constructed, code-compliant U.S. house.

Photo of a young man wearing an oven mitt and holding a pan of food above a stove.

Michael Kinard, a member of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte Solar Decathlon 2013 team, prepares traditional southern cuisine for dinner guests from other university teams. To achieve high scores in the Solar Decathlon 2015 Energy Balance Contest, teams will have to use energy strategically when completing competition tasks such as cooking and hosting dinner parties. Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

“Teams will have to think carefully about energy use to score well in the Energy Balance Contest,” said Joe Simon, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition manager. “They will have to design houses that are extremely energy-efficient and will have to operate them intelligently.”

According to Simon, the Energy Balance Contest will require teams to complete all competition tasks—such as doing laundry, running the dishwasher, and hosting dinner parties—using approximately 60% of the energy consumed by the average house built today.

“Challenges presented by the Solar Decathlon through contests like Energy Balance require teams to establish strategic and sometimes creative strategies to win,” he said. “By encouraging innovation like this, the Solar Decathlon provides students with a unique and effective way of learning science, technology, engineering, and mathematics that prepares them for careers in clean energy.”

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Universitá Degli Studi di Roma TRE Wins Solar Decathlon Europe 2014

July 14, 2014

By Carol Laurie

Congratulations to Team Rhome from Universitá Degli Studi di Roma TRE, the winner of Solar Decathlon Europe 2014! The team’s Rhome for Dencity house received first place overall in the final award ceremony of the competition Saturday evening in Versailles, France.

Photo of a group of cheering people holding an Italian flag and a first-place trophy.

Members of Team Rhome celebrate their first-place win at Solar Decathlon Europe 2014. Credit: Solar Decathlon Europe/

Photo of a modern house with solar PV panels on its side and an Italian flag near the front entrance.

Winner of Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 is the Universitá Degli Studi di Roma TRE for its Rhome for Dencity house, pictured here. Credit: Solar Decathlon Europe /

Second place in this international competition went to the Atlantic Challenge team from Nantes, France, for its Philéas house. Team Prêt-à-Loger from Delft University, Netherlands, placed third for its house, A Home With a Skin.

Two of the 20 teams represented U.S.-European partnerships. Team Réciprocité (Appalachian State University and France’s Université d’Angers) placed ninth, and Team Inside Out (Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and Germany’s University of Applied Sciences–Erfurt) placed 14th.

The final standings are:

Rank Team Score
1 Universitá Degli Studi di Roma TRE 840.63
2 ENSA Nantes, ESB, Audencia Group, Audencia Nantes, Ecole des Mines Nantes, ISSBA, IUT Nantes, Architectes Ingénieurs Associés, Atlansun, Institut des Matériaux Jean Rouxel, Medieco, Novabuild, SAMOA, and SCE 839.75
3 Delft University of Technology 837.87
4 University of the Arts Berlin and Technical University of Berlin 823.42
5 Lucerne University of Applied Sciences and Arts – School of Engineering and Architecture 804.75
6 Universidad Tecnica Federico Santa Maria – Valparaiso and Université de la Rochelle – Espace Bois de l’IUT 802.42
7 University of Applied Sciences Frankfurt am Main 793.71
8 Technical University of Denmark 780.01
9 Université d’Angers and Appalachian State University 776.92
10 Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya – Barcelona 776.24
11 Chiba University 774.09
12 National Chiao Tung University 772.15
13 Universidad Nacional Autonoma de México and the Center of Research in Industrial Design and the School of Engineering and the School of Arts 760.17
14 Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and University of Applied Sciences – Erfurt 657.46
15 Universisad de Castilla – La Mancha and Universidad de Alcala de Henares University 650.44
16 Costa Rica Institute of Technology – Cartago 588.8
17 King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi 508.15
18 Academy of Architecture and IIT Bombay 452.3
19 Technical University of Civil Engineering Bucharest, University Politehnica of Bucharest, and University of Architecture and Urbanism “Ion Mincu” 348.49
20 Université Paris-Est, ENSA Paris Malaquais, ENSA Marne la Vallée, ESTP Paris, Ecole des Ponts Paris Tech, ESIEE Paris, ENSG, and IFSTTAR 268.81

Congratulations to all the Solar Decathlon Europe teams!

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Solar Vie – Solar Life in Versailles

July 1, 2014

By Maureen Clapper

A brand new city sprang up—almost overnight—about 15 miles southwest of Paris. You won’t find a cookie-cutter template for design here, as each house is unique in function, form, and style. The one thing all of the houses have in common is they are designed, built, and tested to operate on pure, green, and clean solar energy.

This solar city, La Cité du Soleil, can be found between now and July 14 in the parc du château de Versailles. While the solar city became a reality over a short 10-day period, it was actually a project two years in the making. The project is the Solar Decathlon Europe, which evolved from the original U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Photo of a group of people with arms raised standing in front of a modern-looking house with large front windows and a rounded, fabric exterior.

Members of Team Inside Out (Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany) gather for a group photo in front of TechStyle Haus, their Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 competition entry. (Credit: Kim Walterthum)

As the energy attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, I’ve been well-placed to watch this project evolve. In March 2012, U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin and France’s Minister for Housing Benoist Apparu signed a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Department of Energy and the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport, and Housing that established their collaboration to organize Solar Decathlon Europe 2014. Bits and pieces of information were released over time: the number of teams selected, the identity of the teams, and the selection of the site. Things seemed to move slowly from my perspective, but then I wasn’t designing a house along with more than 200 people on two different continents like the two U.S.-European teams participating in the competition: Team Inside Out (Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and Germany’s University of Applied Sciences–Erfurt) and Team Réciprocité (Appalachian State University and France’s Université d’Angers).

Photo of a two-story house with visitors lining up to enter its front door.

Maison Réciprocité, the competition house of the Appalachian State University and Université d’Angers team, is fully constructed and ready for visitors at Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, France. (Credit: Kim Walterthum)

For me, the concept and the vision of this event started to become clear when we hosted these two teams at Embassy Paris in November 2013. Since then, it seems time has flown by. So here we are at opening week of Solar Decathlon Europe in Versailles. The French hosts boast that this competition has the greatest international diversity of any Solar Decathlon held to date. There are 20 teams representing 17 countries that have been on site reconstructing the houses they built and tested remotely, then disassembled, packed, and shipped to France for this competition. From June 16 to June 26, the teams worked around the clock to reconstruct their incredible jigsaw habitats.

If you can’t come to France to attend this event in person, I encourage you to check out the website and watch the 3-minute videos that cover the construction and beginning phases of the competition.

Maureen Clapper is the energy attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.

Sneak Peek: Solar Decathlon 2015 House Concepts!

June 30, 2014

By Carol Laurie

What do the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 teams have up their sleeves? Our new 2015 team pages will give you an idea of what’s in store. The teams have submitted their first house designs to competition organizers, and we’re giving you a glimpse of what’s planned.

Although all the projects feature solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive, they represent a variety of target markets, technological innovations, and design approaches. These include everything from urban infill housing for low-income residents and zero-net-energy housing for migrant farm workers to a modern version of the “dogtrot” house for a family of gardeners—though these plans might change substantially before construction begins at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, next fall.

Photo of a modern living room with a wall of windows, through which an outdoor table and wheelchair are visible.

Solar Decathlon 2013 Team Capitol D.C.’s HARVEST HOME, pictured here, is a fully accessible house designed to facilitate healing for a war veteran. Solar Decathlon 2015 teams have presented their first plans for the competition. (Credit: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Stay tuned for updated team project information and designs in the months ahead. In August, we’ll share the teams’ own websites with expanded information about their plans, and next January, we’ll post computer-animated walkthroughs and renderings of the team houses.

In the meantime, see where it all begins with the Solar Decathlon 2015 initial design concepts.

Carol Laurie is the communications manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.


Solar Decathlon Europe 2014: Perspective of a Manufacturer, Observer, and Building Technology Enthusiast

June 26, 2014

By Meredith Tunick

When I arrived onsite yesterday, Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 student teams were in the middle of the final phase of heavy construction of their self-designed and self-built project houses. The scene was filled with intense energy as students—fully equipped with hard hats, steel-toed boots, and safety gear—moved around their construction sites in a sort of synchronized dance of home production. The air smelled of dirt, lumber, and teamwork.

My experience with the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon dates back to 2005, when I toured the houses on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. I attended the competition not as an employee of a manufacturing company or a Solar Decathlon sponsor but as a private individual interested in emerging energy and building technology. My first encounter with the Solar Decathlon was significant, and I’ve been passionate about it ever since.

Photo of a man and woman wearing hard hats and safety vests inside a house under construction.

Rory Stevens of Team Inside Out (Brown University, Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany) talks with Annette Wagner, Bosch, Government Affairs, Brussels, and explains how the team used innovative fabrics and techniques to design the structure of its house. Credit: Meredith Tunick

Fast forward to Solar Decathlon Europe 2014, currently underway in Versailles, France. After signing in at the main registration desk on the event grounds, just off the main entrance to the Palace of Versailles, I received a visitor pass, hard hat, safety vest, and a pair of work boots. My colleague Annette Wagner, who had taken the train down from Brussels to join me for the site tour, and I met up with Louise Holloway, communications and brand identity specialist for Solar Decathlon Europe 2014. Louise provided us with a tour of the full site and shared her enthusiasm with us about what the students had accomplished. While briefing us on all the team project concepts, she thoughtfully answered our questions, tended to critical logistics issues, and while doing so, waved and greeted students, volunteers, and other onsite personnel with a smile and an encouraging attitude. Like so many other Solar Decathlon staff members I have come across, Louise has a sharp-edged eye for detail, an immense talent for multi-tasking, and the supreme capacity of charisma.

During our tour, Louise introduced us to the two Solar Decathlon Europe teams that incorporate U.S. universities: Team Inside Out—a collaborative project that includes Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Applied Sciences in Erfurt, Germany—and Team Réciprocité, an alliance of Appalachian State University and Université d’Angers, France. We spent time with Rory Stevens of Team Inside Out as he explained his team’s solar-powered passive house that uses curving surfaces and high-performance textiles. Rory took us inside Techstyle Haus to get a better look at the interior structural steel ribs that hold the house together.

One more day remains until the competition’s opening ceremony, which will take place on Friday, June 27. I can’t wait to see what the final products look like! What an amazing endeavor and a fantastic opportunity for these student teams to showcase their innovative designs, expertise, and outside-the-box thinking. More to come from the event grounds of Solar Decathlon Europe 2014, here in Versailles, France. Au revoir!

Meredith Tunick is manager, Federal Government Affairs, Bosch North America.