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.

Solar Decathlon Alum Goes From Coordinating One Efficient Building to Many

October 23, 2014

By Irene Ying

As a project coordinator for building management software company Lucid Design Group, Cordelia Newbury works with customers to reduce their energy use. And although she now coordinates the energy efficiency of tens of buildings at a time, her career in energy-efficient spaces began with one-house projects—on Middlebury College’s U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 and Solar Decathlon 2013 teams.

“After working on the construction of the Self-Reliance house for Solar Decathlon 2011, I became more curious about architecture and building efficiency movements and was hooked,” Newbury explains. “So I incorporated building efficiency into my academic work and continued on with Solar Decathlon 2013.”

Newbury served as team manager of Middlebury’s InSite house for Solar Decathlon 2013. She describes her role as “acting as a central resource for the team to connect students with each other and with external resources such as contractors to keep us on track.” This meant that she did a little bit of everything: from buying groceries and acting as travel agent for 70 team members to performing late-night construction, hosting fundraising meetings, and coordinating design teams.

Photo of a group of smiling people wearing hard hats.

Cordelia Newbury, second from left, shares a light moment with Middlebury College Solar Decathlon 2013 teammates (from left) Ari Lattanzi, Marcel Rodgers, and Jack Kerby-Miller. Newbury credits her Solar Decathlon experience with helping her become an energy-efficiency project coordinator for a building management software company. (Photo courtesy of Cordelia Newbury.)

Newbury didn’t just learn skills by working on the Solar Decathlon team; she also gained professional connections through her experience. During the two-year Solar Decathlon 2013 project, the team had extensive contact with administrative departments at Middlebury as well as local professionals who consulted on InSite. To Newbury and her team, these contacts were more than donors and extra pairs of hands. They also became mentors, friends, and eventually a professional network.

“The amount of responsibility that we had on Solar Decathlon is not often available through internships, and having administrators and contractors get to know me and my teammates created strong relationships that guided me to my job with Lucid,” she says.

Photo of a young woman.

Cordelia Newbury, who served as Middlebury College’s Solar Decathlon 2013 team manager, says the Solar Decathlon provides visitors an opportunity to interact with environmentally responsive architecture and think about how they can contribute to more sustainable spaces and lifestyles. (Photo courtesy of Cordelia Newbury.)

But most important of all, Newbury says, she found a new way of thinking about sustainable spaces and lifestyles, which drives her career today. The Solar Decathlon, she says, taught her that it’s possible to create attractive spaces that integrate sustainable building into everyday life without sacrificing comfort or beauty.

“The Solar Decathlon is on the one hand a platform to exhibit energy-efficient houses, but it is also an opportunity to spread powerful ideas to architects, builders, engineers, students, adults, or anyone who sees themselves occupying a constructed space,” she says. “I don’t think that anyone could leave Decathlete Way without remembering at least one idea that he or she could use to work toward a more sustainable lifestyle.”

Irene Ying is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

Department of Energy Seeks Public Sector Input for Future Solar Decathlon Planning

October 17, 2014

By Solar Decathlon

The Department of Energy (DOE) has issued a request for information (RFI) seeking input to help inform the design, planning, and implementation of the next generation of the Solar Decathlon—in 2017 and beyond.

The purpose of this RFI is to solicit feedback from past and present participants in the Solar Decathlon, broader academic circles, industry, sponsors, and other stakeholders on issues related to future Solar Decathlon competitions. The objective is to improve the outcomes aligned with the Solar Decathlon in the long term. DOE is specifically interested in feedback about additional U.S. benefits that should be the focus of future solar-powered home programs funded by DOE, the format of a competition to achieve those benefits, and whether other formats or options can deliver higher value to the U.S. In the format discussion, if the current format is proposed to continue, information is requested on how DOE should identify future locations for the Solar Decathlon.

DOE seeks a variety of different types of information to help inform its decision regarding how future Solar Decathlon competitions will be organized. To this end, DOE seeks detailed information regarding the following aspects related to the Solar Decathlon competitions:

  • Question 1
    How could the goals of the Solar Decathlon evolve to create a larger impact on the market needs of the following industry sectors?
    1. Buildings
    2. Solar
    3. Utility
    4. Transportation
    5. Education
  • Question 2
    What additional outcomes of the Solar Decathlon could increase the scale of that impact, and improve its cost effectiveness for the U.S.?
  • Question 3
    What is the appropriate role for DOE with respect to delivering on this potential impact?
  • Question 4
    What changes could be made to the Solar Decathlon rules, format, location, and logistics to achieve those outcomes?
  • Question 5
    How could the public and private roles and funding sources be developed to achieve those outcomes?
  • Question 6
    What should the Solar Decathlon look like in 10 years?

Instructions for how to respond to the RFI can be found in the eXchange system at Responses are due Nov. 24, 2014.

Solar Decathlon Organizers Adjust 2015 Competition Lineup

September 30, 2014

By Amy Vaughn

U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Director Richard King today announced that Stanford University has withdrawn from the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition.

In Stanford University’s notification letter, the school administration said: “The team and the university remain enthusiastically committed to the program’s goals. Faculty and students will continue to take part in a wide array of research, teaching, and outreach activities to advance alternative energy technologies and systems.”

Stanford University previously competed in Solar Decathlon 2013, where it placed fifth overall with its Start.Home entry.

“Stanford was a strong competitor in our last competition,” said King. “While we’re disappointed we won’t see its students compete in 2015, we know the school and students will continue our tradition of educating others about the opportunities presented by renewable energy and energy efficiency.”

The updated Solar Decathlon 2015 team lineup includes:

  • California Polytechnic State University
  • California State University, Sacramento
  • Clemson University
  • Crowder College and Drury University
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • New York City College of Technology
  • State University of New York at Alfred College of Technology and Alfred University
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • University of Florida, National University of Singapore, and Santa Fe College
  • The University of Texas at Austin and Technische Universitaet Muenchen
  • University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
  • University of California, Davis
  • University of California, Irvine; Saddleback College; Chapman University; and Irvine Valley College
  • Vanderbilt University and Middle Tennessee State University
  • West Virginia University and University of Roma Tor Vergata
  • Western New England University, Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, and Universidad Tecnológica Centroamericana
  • Yale University.

Amy Vaughn is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.

Alumnus Builds Houses, Career on Solar Decathlon Experience

September 22, 2014

By Irene Ying

Ryan Abendroth is the founder, principle, and practitioner of Passive Energy Designs in St. Louis, Missouri—a company that consults on high-performing, low-energy buildings. To date, he has consulted on more than 100 buildings to help others design and achieve ultra-efficient houses that are aesthetically pleasing and functionally livable. He credits this career to his participation in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2009, an event that he calls “transformative” to his life.

“The Solar Decathlon put me in touch with a company at the forefront of innovation within the building industry,” Abendroth says. “The knowledge I gained through the Solar Decathlon led directly to employment and set the foundation for the work I have done up to this point.”

Photo of a young man.

Solar Decathlon 2009 alumnus Ryan Abendroth owns a Passive House consultancy and credits the Solar Decathlon with laying the foundation for his career. (Photo courtesy Ryan Abendroth)

Abendroth became involved with the Solar Decathlon while studying architecture at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where his work won scholarships and prize nominations. On the Solar Decathlon team, he performed energy modeling on Gable Home, which, like many of his projects post-Solar Decathlon, combined energy efficiency practices, traditional building techniques, and attractive design. He also contributed to the decision by the Illinois team to pursue Passivehaus Certification for Gable Home. Passive House is an energy performance standard that requires excellent insulation, solar gain and internal heating, airtightness, and high indoor air quality. The Illinois team won second place overall in the 2009 competition.

It was during his time working on Passivhaus Certification that Abendroth became interested in the passive house concept. This led him to interning at Passive House Institute US, a nonprofit organization that trains, certifies, and otherwise supports the advancement of the Passive House standard in North America. At the Passive House Institute US, Abendroth performed contract work and trained other professionals in Passive House standards. He eventually became the certification manager, which allowed him to interact with design teams across the United States. Out of this work came his current company, Passive Energy Designs, founded in 2010.

“My Solar Decathlon experience did not just benefit my work, but it laid the foundation for all my work to come,” Abendroth emphasizes. “It introduced me to the passive house concept, which, five years later, is still a main tenant of my business and life.”

Abendroth uses his expertise to consult on energy-efficient buildings. His work often includes performing detailed energy modeling calculations, engineering the building’s thermal envelope, and providing input into the building’s design. He also teaches and educates others about the passive house concept and standards. In addition to this work, he’s been part of two completed projects at the University of Kansas: the Prescott Passive House and the Center for Design Research.

Busy as he is, Abendroth still found time to go back to where it all started. In 2014, he joined the U.S.-German team of Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and University of Applied Sciences – Erfurt at Solar Decathlon Europe in Versailles. This time he participated as an instructor and consultant and calls it an “amazing experience” that he was grateful to be a part of.

“The camaraderie among the students both times I competed was excellent,” he says. “We built lasting friendships and lasting professional networks.”

Summarizing what the Solar Decathlon means to him, Abendroth adds, “It’s not just about a competition and the houses that are built, but rather an investment into all of the decathletes, their futures, and the future of the built environment.”

Irene Ying is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon communications team.


Solar Decathlon 2015 Team Websites Provide New Insight

September 18, 2014

By Carol Laurie

If you’re ready for another glimpse into what the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015 teams are up to, check out our updated 2015 team pages. They now include links to the teams’ own websites!

As part of the Communications Contest, teams create websites to share information about their projects and their progress. Over the next year, the teams will continue to expand their websites and social media presence. At the start of the competition in October 2015, Communications Contest jurors will evaluate the websites for effectiveness, ease of use, compliance with U.S. government standards, and other attributes.

Photo of a woman standing in front of signage and talking to a group of people who are holding clipboards.

Gwen Cook of Middlebury College gives Communications Contest jurors a house tour during Solar Decathlon 2013. The Communications Contest challenges teams to educate others about their houses, their experiences, and their projects. (Credit: Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

In addition to team electronic communications, the Communications Contest jurors review public exhibit materials and presentation, an audiovisual presentation, and overall communications strategy. They award points for quality, creativity, delivery, and innovation.

Stay tuned for more from the Solar Decathlon teams. In January 2015, we’ll post computer-animated walkthroughs and renderings of the team houses. In the meantime, learn all about the current plans and design concepts on the team websites.

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