Skip Navigation to Main Content
Photo of Solar Decathlon Director Richard King being interviewed by a videographer.

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.

Technology Spotlight: Energy-Recovery Ventilation Systems

August 18, 2014

By Alexis Powers and Carol Laurie

Editor’s Note: This post is one of a series of technology spotlights that introduces common technologies used in U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon team houses.

Good ventilation is vital for maintaining healthy indoor air quality. Houses built to modern energy efficiency standards, such as U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition houses, are tightly constructed to allow very little outside air to leak in. As a result, odors, chemicals, particles, and humidity can become trapped, increasing indoor air pollution.

Energy-recovery ventilation systems provide tightly constructed houses with fresh air while minimizing energy loss. These systems rely on heat exchangers to efficiently transfer heat between indoor and outdoor air supplies. There are two types of energy-recovery ventilation systems: heat-recovery ventilators (HRVs) and energy-recovery (or enthalpy-recovery) ventilators (ERVs). An HRV uses fans to pull fresh air into a house while simultaneously exhausting stale air. In the winter, the heat exchanger transfers heat energy from the warmer outgoing air to the cooler incoming air to reduce the need for heating. In the summer, the system reduces the need to cool incoming fresh air by sending the cooler exhaust air past the warm intake stream. An ERV goes one step further by controlling indoor humidity as well as temperature. An ERV transfers water vapor along with heat energy to keep the interior humidity constant.

These ventilation systems can recover 70%–80% of the energy from a house’s outgoing air supply to help maintain a comfortable indoor environment.

Photo of a box-shaped energy recovery ventilator inside a mechanical closet.

Team Ontario used this energy recovery ventilator in its “ECHO” house. Energy recovery ventilation systems help maintain a comfortable indoor environment by recovering 70%–80% of the energy from the outgoing air supply. Credit: Carol Laurie, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Several Solar Decathlon 2013 teams incorporated energy recovery ventilation technologies into their competition houses. Norwich University provided continuous ventilation of its “Delta T-90” house by using a multiunit HRV system that was 92% efficient, ductless, and whisper-quiet. Team Ontario (Queen’s University, Carleton University, and Algonquin College), which received first place in the Solar Decathlon 2013 Engineering Contest, used an ERV in its “ECHO” house to dramatically reduce the energy needed to condition indoor air.

Photo of the exterior of a modern house.

Norwich University used a multiunit HRV system that provided continuous ventilation in its Solar Decathlon 2013 “Delta T-90” house. Credit: Jason Flakes/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Visit the Energy Savers website to learn more about energy-efficient ventilation systems.

Alexis Powers and Carol Laurie are members of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

 

 

 

What Makes a House a Home?

August 14, 2014

By Carol Laurie

A house is just a building until people live in it. Then it becomes a home.

Although U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon houses are not lived in during competition, Solar Decathlon visitors may ask themselves whether they could be comfortable homes when stepping through their thresholds.

Could I live here?

From a competition standpoint, this question is answered through the Home Life Contest, which measures how well each house accommodates comfortable living—including aspects such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching movies, and using a computer. The Home Life Contest also simulates taking a warm shower and spending time in a well-lighted space.

Photo of a man wearing a chef’s hat cooking at a stove, with people sitting at a table in the background.

Decathletes from the University of Nevada at Las Vegas host a meal for student dinner party guests during the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. Dinner parties are part of the Home Life Contest, which helps teams get to know one another while demonstrating how comfortable the competition houses might be to live in. Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

For this contest, teams receive points for:

  • Hosting two dinner parties for neighboring teams
  • Hosting a movie night for neighboring teams
  • Turning on all interior and exterior house lights during specified time periods
  • Operating a television and computer during specified time periods
  • Producing 15 gallons (56.8 L) of hot water (110°F/43.3°C) from the shower in 10 minutes or less several times during the competition.

Teams plan their dinner party menus in advance, and each menu must feature food and beverages prepared in the house. (See the 2013 University of Las Vegas team’s menu for an example.) For the movie night, guests from neighboring teams watch a movie with the host team on its home theater system. Together, the dinner parties and movie night evaluate the functionality of each house while simultaneously providing an opportunity for competing students to get to know one another.

Completing these tasks brings teams together and provides an indication of whether each Solar Decathlon house could be considered a home.

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

 

 

 

Solar Decathlon Is Defining Experience for New York Solar Company CEO

July 23, 2014

Carol Laurie

David Schieren is the chief executive officer of a leading Long Island, New York, solar engineering and installation company. He’s also a U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon alumnus and outspoken advocate for the competition.

Schieren emphasizes the Solar Decathlon’s unique way of teaching science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) provides participants with the experience they need for the clean energy workforce.

“There is simply no substitute for direct experience, and the Solar Decathlon provides an unparalleled opportunity to work with a real budget and collaborate with an interdisciplinary team on renewable energy, energy efficiency, construction, project management, marketing, communications, and fundraising,” says Schieren, CEO of EmPower Solar. “The Solar Decathlon played a pivotal role in my professional development because it gave me the ultimate crash course in STEM topics through both academic textbook learning and project/competition-based learning.”

Photo of a man with his arm around a woman in front of a modern-looking wooden house.

David Schieren and his wife, fellow former decathlete and alumni association cofounder Cristina Zancani, in front of Adaptive House, the competition entry from King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi at Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, France. (Courtesy of David Schieren, EmPower Solar)

Schieren was a graduate student in energy management when he joined the New York Institute of Technology’s Solar Decathlon 2005 team.

“When I first learned about the Solar Decathlon, I knew immediately that the scope of work as an engineering team member would encompass all the hands-on learning experience I was craving as a student of renewable energy and energy efficiency and that it would position me well for the workforce,” he says. Schieren spent two years as the energy team leader, with overall responsibility for engineering and joint responsibility for project management, fundraising, communication, and leadership efforts. The team finished in fifth place.

But his involvement with the competition didn’t end there. Schieren has attended every U.S. event since 2005. And in 2007, he cofounded the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Alumni Association, which provides a forum for former decathletes to connect, build relationships, share information, network about job opportunities, and advocate for renewable energy.

“For me and many competition alumni, the Solar Decathlon is a life-defining event. While I was already passionate about solar and sustainability, the competition transformed my passion into laser focus and clarity of purpose with experience to back me up,” he says. “The Solar Decathlon’s key lesson for me was that through research, positive collaboration, dedication, and hard work, we can use solar with energy efficiency and sustainable building practices to dramatically improve the standard of living.”

Schieren sings the virtues of the Solar Decathlon through his company’s yearly EmPower Solar Student Competition. Encouraging local high school students to discover the benefits of solar power, the competition combines STEM and creative components to communicate students’ research. To date, the Solar Student Competition has engaged hundreds of students and awarded more than $8,000 in scholarships. Best of all, the grand prize is a trip to the Solar Decathlon. Over the years, EmPower Solar has sent the winning teams to Solar Decathlons in Washington, D.C.; Irvine, California; and just recently, to Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, France.

Schieren also demonstrates his Solar Decathlon commitment through EmPower Solar’s hiring practices.

“I actively target decathletes for open positions at my company and recommend them to other recruiters. Solar decathletes are self-selecting ‘A’ players who have a deep passion for sustainability and an unyielding work ethic,” he says. “If I can’t find decathletes, I look for similar traits in other candidates, such as experience with STEM project-based learning and particularly competitions. There is just something about competitions that can show what people are made of and how dedicated they are.”

In addition to helping shape his career, the Solar Decathlon has had a powerful effect on Schieren’s personal life. During the 2005 competition, he met Cristina Zancani, a decathlete from the Rhode Island School of Design team. The two fell in love and eventually married. Today, Zancani, a cofounder of the Solar Decathlon Alumni Association, is EmPower’s senior architect and presently completing construction of the company’s new net-zero energy Solar Design Center.

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

 

 

Solar Decathlon Sponsors Make Everything Possible

July 23, 2014

By Carol Laurie

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon sponsors know a good thing when they see it. After all, the Solar Decathlon is more than an award-winning competition and highly popular public exhibit. It’s also a proven workforce development program that prepares collegiate students for careers in clean energy. The Solar Decathlon uses blended methods (including classroom instruction and real-world application) to teach science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) for building systems design and operation.

Solar Decathlon sponsors have a shared commitment to the goals of this inspiring competition, including STEM education, workforce development, and clean energy solutions. And in addition to supporting the goals that matter most to them, these sponsors have the opportunity to fulfill a variety of Solar Decathlon event needs.

For example, one of the most publicly visible sponsorship needs is event promotion. This sustaining-level sponsorship contribution will help drive attendance to the eight-day exhibit in Southern California through traditional and digital media outreach. In return, the official Solar Decathlon 2015 event promotion sponsor will receive top-level sustaining sponsor benefits, including high-profile recognition through online and traditional media, co-branding opportunities, and an extensive onsite presence. With these benefits, the Solar Decathlon 2015 event promotion sponsor will enjoy dedicated outdoor exhibit space within the Solar Decathlon village, speaking roles at ceremonies, naming rights to a pedestrian street in the village, logos on village signage, and full-page recognition in the Solar Decathlon 2015 Visitors Guide.

Photo of a group of cheering, smiling people in front of a large sign with a wide ribbon falling away a pair of giant scissors.

Solar Decathlon sustaining sponsors receive outstanding benefits, such as playing an active role in ceremonies like this ribbon cutting, which opened Solar Decathlon 2013. (Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

As Solar Decathlon Director Richard King says: “The Solar Decathlon has the power to reach millions, to educate, to influence, and to lead. Sponsors provide the power to make it all possible.”

It’s your time to shine. Join the Solar Decathlon sponsor family. For more information about our sponsor program, download the Solar Decathlon 2015 sponsorship brochure and contact Richard King to discuss how your organization can contribute to Solar Decathlon 2015.

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

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.