Frequently Asked Questions
These frequently asked questions provide an overview of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. If you have a question that is not answered here or elsewhere on the site, please contact us.
The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition made up of 10 contests that challenge student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses. 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. Additionally, Solar Decathlon 2017 will also feature a sustainability expo, professional development and consumer workshops, middle-school education events and a community festival.
The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. The next Solar Decathlon takes place Oct. 5–15, 2017, at the 61st & Peña Station commuter rail stop in Denver, Colorado. Houses are open to the public:
- Thursday, Oct. 5 – Monday, Oct. 9
- Thursday, Oct. 12 – Sunday, Oct. 15.
Teams from colleges and universities across the globe participate in the Solar Decathlon. Today's students are tomorrow's engineers, architects, scientists, entrepreneurs, and homeowners. The Solar Decathlon encourages students to incorporate energy and water efficiency and clean energy into their future professional projects and personal lives.
The competition fosters collaboration among students from different academic disciplines, including engineering, architecture, interior design, business, marketing and communications, who otherwise might not work together until they enter the workplace.
Teams composed of faculty and students from post-secondary institutions submit proposals and plans for consideration. Applications are evaluated by a panel of engineers, scientists, and building experts. Teams are required to meet specific criteria to demonstrate their ability to design and build an innovative, entirely solar-powered house; raise funds; support the project through well-integrated curricula; and assemble a team to carry the project through to completion. In addition, a panel of professionals evaluates conceptual designs from proposers. The results of their evaluations, combined with scores based on the four criteria listed above, determine the Solar Decathlon teams.
If you are interested in competing in a future Solar Decathlon, learn how to apply.
Selected teams can be proud that they are among a select group of schools and students to take part in the unique educational and workforce development opportunity that is the Solar Decathlon. However, per federal requirements, the number of applications received is confidential.
The student teams spend almost two years designing and building their houses and preparing for the competition. Students test their houses to ensure optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.
The competition places demands on the buildings' energy systems to maintain the house within a certain temperature range, to provide lighting, to run appliances, and much more. The houses generate energy with photovoltaic (also called solar electric) systems that produce electricity and with solar thermal systems for space heating and cooling and water heating.
The construction costs of the team houses vary. As part of the Market Potential contest, each team chooses a specific target market for which they design the house. And for the Innovation Contest, teams are encouraged to take innovative approaches to design rather than limiting themselves to the most affordable or off-the-shelf products. Evaluation criteria in both contests encourage teams to keep a practical eye on the cost effectiveness and overall benefits of their choices to the target market.
Some of the houses are sold to recover costs or raise money for future teams. Most of the houses, however, are used for research and are on display for public tours at their respective universities. Learn more about each of the houses from the following Solar Decathlon competitions: