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

Posts Tagged ‘Solar Decathlon’

Solar Decathlon Village Powered by Microgrid and Sponsor Support

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

By Carol Laurie

Since the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2009, a temporary, ground-laid electrical grid (or “microgrid”) has connected Solar Decathlon houses with one another and the local utility. The village microgrid allows excess power generated by the houses’ solar electric systems to be sent back to the larger city utility grid and its customers. The microgrid also enables the competition houses to draw energy from the utility when consumption exceeds production.

In Solar Decathlon 2002, 2005, and 2007, Solar Decathlon houses were grid-independent and ran off batteries that stored the electricity generated by their solar photovoltaic systems. In 2009, competition organizers decided to connect the houses to the electrical grid to better reflect the typical residential configuration found today. By connecting each house to the local electric utility grid, the microgrid enables houses in the Solar Decathlon village to function the same way solar households throughout the United States operate.


Photo of a group of people talking next to an electrical box.

Byron Stafford (second from left), who served as the Solar Decathlon site operations manager from 2002 until 2013, consults with a team member from the City College of New York (right) about interconnecting the team’s house with the 2011 village microgrid. Stafford and his team of engineers transitioned the solar village from battery storage to grid power by installing the first Solar Decathlon village microgrid in 2009. (Credit: Carol Anna/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Energy Balance Contest

The microgrid also changed the Energy Balance Contest, for which teams earn points based on their energy production and energy consumption. Before the microgrid, organizers measured the flow of energy in and out of battery storage during the competition. Now, the energy each house produces and consumes over the course of the competition is measured with a bidirectional utility meter.

When the sun shines, the solar system produces electricity that is used to power appliances, lights, mechanical systems, and even an electric car. If the system produces more electricity than the house needs, excess electricity flows from the house back into the microgrid and the larger utility grid. At night, or when the demand for energy exceeds the amount of energy being produced, the house consumes electricity from the grid.

In this way, the microgrid provides two-way power flow and enables the Solar Decathlon village to operate continuously regardless of available sunlight or household electricity requirements.

Powered by Sponsors

The Solar Decathlon depends on sponsors to provide the supplemental expertise and equipment needed to design, build, and operate the village microgrid.

For the 2009, 2011, and 2013 competitions, Solar Decathlon sponsor Schneider Electric provided microgrid design and engineering services as well as electrical distribution equipment required to safely and reliably connect the Solar Decathlon village to the local utility. In 2011 and 2013, Schneider Electric also provided a proprietary metering and data system that enabled online and onsite demonstrations of real-time electricity generation and consumption in the village.

The microgrid also depends on local utilities to enable interconnection of the main utility grid with the Solar Decathlon microgrid. Edison International (the parent company of Southern California Edison) provided this crucial sponsorship in 2013, and Pepco stepped up to the plate for Washington, D.C., events in 2009 and 2011.

Other microgrid sponsors include MicroPlanet, which sponsored voltage regulation equipment in 2013, and M.C. Dean, which installed the microgrid in 2011.

All of these sponsors worked together to provide a valuable addition to the competition.

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

Salut Versailles! Solar Decathlon Europe Opens to Visitors

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

By Carol Laurie

On June 28, 20 competition houses from 17 countries and three continents open to visitors in La Cité du Soleil—Solar Decathlon Europe’s solar city in Versailles, France.

Two of the 20 teams represent U.S.-European partnerships:

  • Team Inside Out (Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and Germany’s University of Applied Sciences–Erfurt)
  • Team Réciprocité (Appalachian State University and France’s Université d’Angers).
Photo of a partially constructed house with two stories and French and U.S. flags waving on the roof.

Maison Réciprocité, the competition house of the Appalachian State University and Université d’Angers team, is shown under construction at Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, France. (Credit: Maureen Clapper)

Keep up with their live monitoring and scoring results on the competition’s home page. You can also keep pace with all the fun on the Solar Decathlon Europe events calendar. In addition, you can find information about the team projects in the projects profile.

Photo of students standing, cheering, and clapping.

Members of Team Réciprocité (Appalachian State University and Université d’Angers) show their team spirit at the Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 welcome ceremony on June 15. (Credit: Solar Decathlon Europe)

La Cité du Soleil is open to the public from June 28 to July 14. The solar houses are open for visits:

  • Weekdays – 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
  • Weekends – 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Solar Decathlon Europe, a complementary competition to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, was hosted by Spain for its first two competitions in 2010 and 2012.

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


Solar Decathlon Takes First Place in Government Communicators Competition

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

By Carol Laurie

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 won first place in the special events category in the National Association of Government Communicators (NAGC) Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards Competition. The award was announced last week during a reception and banquet at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Wrote competition judge Cheryl V. Chambers of the U.S. Census Bureau: “This entry was flawless—a well-executed and interesting event, and a top-notch overall entry. Very comprehensive and impressive. Congratulations on the coverage, participation, and great metrics.”

Solar Decathlon 2013 gained the attention of millions through worldwide media coverage and attracted 64,000 visitors, who toured the solar-powered houses and learned about their energy-saving features.

Aerial photo of crowds of people visiting solar-powered houses that line both sides of a village street on a sunny day.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 attracted 64,000 visitors and gained the attention of millions through worldwide media coverage. The 2015 event will be held at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, Oct. 8–18. (Credit: Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

The NAGC Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards Competition, held in conjunction with the NAGC 2014 Communications School, salutes superior communications efforts of government agencies.

This joins a growing list of awards the Solar Decathlon has received over the past several years. These include:

  • 2013 OC Metro magazine’s Green Team Award
  • Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation, 2012 Bright Ideas in Government Award
  • Public Relations Society of America, 2012 Silver Anvil Award, Government Events, More Than Seven Days category
  • PR Daily’s Digital & Social Media 2012 Award for Best Government Social Media program
  • National Building Museum 2010 Honor Award.

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

Solar Decathlon 2011 Winner Opens as Educational Research Center

Thursday, June 12, 2014

By Carol Laurie

The University of Maryland’s WaterShed, which took first place in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, recently opened to the public as the Pepco WaterShed Sustainability Center—a living classroom and laboratory for sustainable energy practices.

In its new home, WaterShed will continue its mission to educate the public about the beauty and versatility of sustainable design. Pepco Holdings Inc. acquired WaterShed in 2012 and worked with the 2011 student team to relocate it to a 5,000-ft2 site adjacent to Pepco’s Rockville Service Center in Maryland. Pepco, the electric service provider to Maryland and Washington, D.C., was a long-time sponsor and strong supporter of U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon events in Washington, D.C.

The Pepco WaterShed Sustainability Center features interactive displays that educate visitors about energy-saving ideas—such as smart thermostats, ground and rooftop-mounted solar panels, electric vehicle charging ports, and smart meters—that they can apply in their own homes. The center is also a working laboratory for Pepco and the University of Maryland that focuses on energy efficiency and sustainable living.

WaterShed was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem and represents a model for how a house can help preserve watersheds everywhere by managing storm water onsite, filtering pollutants from greywater, and minimizing water use. As the WaterShed Sustainability Center, the house features an additional wing along with the hallmarks of its winning design: a dual-purpose “butterfly roof” that captures both sunlight and rain water; an indoor, liquid desiccant waterfall for high-efficiency humidity control; edible landscapes that promote community-based agriculture; and constructed wetlands, which cleanse storm water and greywater for reuse.

“WaterShed has taken on a life way beyond its first life—it’s simply breathtaking,” said Amy Gardner, University of Maryland Solar Decathlon 2011 faculty lead. “Pepco has done such an amazing job not only assembling WaterShed but also building its landscape, a companion module in which they will do their testing and research, and beginning to build its outreach/K–12 program.”

WaterShed exemplifies the ongoing benefit of Solar Decathlon houses. Houses from prior events are now located throughout the United States and around the world, where they continue to serve education, conservation, and community-oriented functions. See the History section of our website for more information about where the houses are now.

The Pepco WaterShed Sustainability Center is located at 201 West Gude Drive in Rockville, Maryland, and is open to the public for guided tours Monday through Friday 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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

Solar Decathlon Director Welcomes 2015 Decathletes

Monday, April 7, 2014

By Richard King

To the new teams, welcome and thank you for accepting our challenge to design and build an energy-efficient, solar-powered house to compete in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2015. And congratulations on being selected!

The Solar Decathlon is a beneficial and rewarding competition. As a solar decathlete, you help create an economy fueled by clean energy technologies that save families and businesses money and reduce U.S. reliance on foreign oil. Your participation in the Solar Decathlon also benefits your career—and I know that one of the top concerns of students like you is finding employment after graduation.

I recently read an interesting article by Steve Mesler, a U.S. gold medalist from the 2010 Winter Olympics whose team won the four-man bobsled event. He writes how, after the Olympics, he realized he had few skills applicable to the working world.

“After a decade of singularly focused training to become the best in the world at my sport, I was left with ‘now what?’ Being strong and fast and able to use perfect push technique to move an object on the ice isn’t especially useful outside the Olympics. Unless a friend’s car is stuck in the snow. It’s scary to realize that the physical skills you have so carefully crafted don’t transfer to the real world.” 

Steve had to start over to find employment and renewed interest.

Not so for solar decathletes. We help ensure your passion does not go unrewarded. You will need to work hard. Refine your skills. Complement your academic coursework. And be creative, resourceful, and determined. Then you, too, can have fame and glory in an awesome competition. The difference is that you will have employers seek you out, making employment both a goal and a reward.

Better still, you’ll feel good knowing your hard work is helping others. That’s why your dedicated involvement is so important. You are not debating how to build a better world—you are showing how to do it. You know the quickest way to a better future is to design a cleaner, more sustainable way to live and then to demonstrate it. It is this combination of creativity and public education that makes the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon so powerful.

We’ll do all we can to help you succeed, and we are going to work hard to make the Solar Decathlon 2015 competition better than ever.

May the best team win!

Richard King, creator and director of the Solar Decathlon, works in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office.