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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.

Five Former Decathletes Who Became Entrepreneurs

January 13, 2017

By Alexis Powers

It’s no surprise that many of the top-notch students who have participated in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon go on to have successful careers in architecture and engineering. Some become collegiate professors, software engineers, analysts, energy consultants, and much more. We even have a newly elected official among our ranks—Chris Kennedy of the University of Colorado Boulder 2002’s first-place team—who won Colorado’s 23rd District State House race last month.

Given that more than 30,000 students have participated in the Solar Decathlon around the globe, it would be impossible to highlight all of the incredible things former decathletes have gone on to do in their careers. Still, it would be a shame not to mention several of the innovative entrepreneurs that have grown out of the competition. That’s why we chose a handful of individuals who are founders, co-founders, or CEOs of their own companies to feature in this blog post.

After participating in the Solar Decathlon, these entrepreneurial decathletes started their own companies.


•    Addison Godine, Founder and CEO of livelight
Once a key team member of the Middlebury College 2011 Solar Decathlon team, Addison went on to become the founder and CEO of livelight in Boston, Massachusetts. This company is working to develop a construction system that combines efficient prefabricated housing modules with a site-built “exoskeleton” to create a new model for urban housing that working people can afford.

•    Allison Kopf, Founder and CEO of Agrilyst
The project manager for Team California’s Solar Decathlon 2009 entry is the founder and CEO of Agrilyst, a farm management and analytics platform for indoor farms. The company’s SaaS platform tracks and analyzes all farm data in one place, enabling growers to optimize plant performance and reduce operating expenses. Agrilyst won the highly coveted Disrupt Cup at TechCrunch Disrupt SF in 2015 and was named one of FastCompany’s Most Innovative Companies in 2016. Allison was recently named the Association for Vertical Farming’s 2016 Changemaker of the Year.

•    Cole Hershkowitz, Founder and CEO at Chai Energy
Before launching Chai Energy, Cole led California Institute of Technology’s Solar Decathlon 2013 team to a second-place finish in the Engineering Contest. Caltech’s house featured a first-of-its-kind, gestural home control system equipped with Machine Vision and 3D maps to allow homeowners to turn off appliances with a simple point of the finger. His latest venture gives homeowners the ability to reduce their utility bill by leveraging smart meter data, analytics, and a great user experience.

•    David G. Schieren, CEO SunPower by EmPower
As the CEO of EmPower, David leads a company that installs high-performance solar energy and battery systems for homeowners and businesses. David and EmPower co-founder Gregory Sachs engineered, installed, and operated a solar hydrogen fuel cell and battery power plant for the New York Institute of Technology’s Solar Decathlon 2005 team. Since then, their company has gone on to install more than 1,500 solar PV systems for New Yorkers. EmPower also hosts an annual Solar Student Competition for local high school students. To date, this student competition has awarded more than $8,000 in scholarships.

•    Derek Ouyang, Lecturer at Stanford University and the Nueva Upper School, Founder at Cloud Arch Studio
Derek was part of Stanford University’s effort to compete in Solar Decathlon 2013 (check out his impressive TEDx talk here). After earning a dual bachelor’s in civil engineering and architectural design and a master’s in structural engineering, Derek began working on sustainable solutions for the built environment through teaching and practice. He teaches a project-based learning course at the core of a new Sustainable Urban Systems graduate program at Stanford, as well as an Introduction to Architecture class at a local high school. Derek also started his own design company, which engages a global network of designers and engineers in community-focused projects such as sustainable resources, affordable housing, and creative placemaking.

These past decathletes turned entrepreneurs—and their peers—are worth knowing about, connecting with, and being inspired by. You can browse more than 500 professional profiles associated with the competition by searching LinkedIn for Solar Decathlon. Also follow us on Facebook or Twitter to continue hearing about the great things solar decathletes are sure to accomplish in the future.

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 to learn more.

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



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