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Photo of Solar Decathlon Director Richard King being interviewed by a videographer.

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

Thursday, 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.

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