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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.

Get a Sneak Preview of Solar Decathlon 2017 Houses

February 6, 2017

By Ruby Theresa Nahan

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2017 is only eight months away, but the competing teams have been hard at work for more than a year. Competition organizers recently reviewed team design development drawings, which reflect about 90% completion of the design details.

Solar Decathlon 2017 takes place in Denver, Colorado, at the 61st & Peña Station October 5–9 and October 12–15, 2017. So, just what are you going to see there? A few themes are emerging as the student teams’ ideas take shape:

Select the style that suits you from the list above, or read on for a full preview of the Solar Village coming to Denver in October.

The teams competing in the 2017 Solar Decathlon have submitted their
design development drawings, which reflect innovative efficiency and
sustainability elements.


Innovative Modular Construction

Think about this. The Solar Decathlon requires each team to design and build a house, then take it apart and ship it to the competition site. On the competition site, teams re-assemble their houses, then compete in 10 contests and provide free tours to the public. After the competition, teams take the houses apart again; and ship them to their final destinations, where they re-assemble them all over again. Needless to say, modular construction, in which sections or “modules” of the house are constructed in controlled conditions and then shipped to the site for final construction, is an appealing idea. These two teams are taking an innovative approach to modular construction.

Rather than prefabricating three-dimensional modules, such as an entire living, dining, and kitchen area of a house, the Netherlands’ team is taking a two-dimensional approach to modular construction. Their house will be assembled from façades, walls, floors, and roof sections that are manufactured, transported to, and assembled at the building site to minimize waste and construction time. Individual components of the house can be moved around to create a new layout or removed and reused in an entirely new structure.

Maryland’s reACT house is intended to serve as a seminal prototype for a “house as a kit of parts” design concept, with the kit consisting of separate components and systems parts that can be efficiently manufactured, transported, assembled, and disassembled. This home-building kit can be readily adapted to a range of clients, communities, construction technologies, and ecological environments.


Given Solar Decathlon houses must be transported to the competition site, it’s always a surprise to discover concrete in the mix of design approaches. The house being designed by the Wash U – St. Louis team consists of a single precast concrete structure intended as a demonstration of integrated advanced building technology and a compelling alternative to traditional wood, light-frame construction.

Water Conservation and Re-use

For the first time, Solar Decathlon 2017 includes a Water Contest, so you’ll see plenty of strategies for minimizing water use and maximizing water re-use, such as greywater reclamation, filtration and re-use; rainwater catchment and filtration; and low-water landscaping. UC Davis is making water the central focus of its Our H2Ouse (pronounced “Our House”). The team intends the design to respond specifically to the super drought that has gripped its home state of California for several years.

Accessibility and “Aging in Place”

Two teams are bringing houses designed for active seniors. Both houses feature key aging-in-place design elements such as adjustable countertops and wheelchair accessibility. However, the teams each present unique solutions to serve this growing market.

Team Las Vegas is constructing a house that features a retro 1960s aesthetic, but is completely tricked out with an integrated home application system that connects the occupants with security, heating and cooling, and lighting control from any mobile device, at home and away.

The team from Northwestern in Chicago has conducted interviews and home visits with individuals and couples who represent its soon-to-retire baby-boomer target market. The team will continue to engage these individuals for user testing and feedback throughout the process of building the house to ensure the finished product truly meets the needs of its intended occupants.

Reflecting Local Style and Needs

Architects use the expression “rooted in place” to describe a building that responds to the environment around it and supports local cultural values. These three teams have developed designs to respond specifically to their unique locations.

Team Alabama’s house features classic southern style with large overhangs and a welcoming front porch. The design is also inspired to respond to devastating tornados and includes a “strong room” that extends below the level of the house’s subfloor to allow permanent footings, so that even if the house around it is impacted by a tornado, the room and everyone in it survives.

What could be more fitting than a BEACH house from Florida! In this case, however, Team Daytona Beach is designing Building Efficient, Affordable, and Comfortable Homes (BEACH) that feature a forever-home design plan, allowing the homeowners the freedom to grow and stay in the house as long as they wish. Passive, energy-neutral technology is incorporated throughout the house and designed to perform in Florida’s hot, humid climate.

West Virginia is Offering Appalachian States Innovative Sustainability, or “OASIS,” a house the team intends to embody purity, privacy, and healthiness. These three core design principles were chosen in response to the mix of a rich cultural history rooted in the natural world and the impacts of industry in the Appalachia region. The design of OASIS combines modern technologies, traditional features, and reclaimed materials to create a house that both evokes and improves on the past while fitting right in with West Virginia’s increasingly modern, urban architecture.

A Larger Community Vision

Competing at the Solar Decathlon is just a first step for the teams and the houses they design, build, and operate. Where each house goes after the competition is up to the team. These four teams have plans to integrate their Solar Decathlon houses into a larger community context.

Intended for urban infill in Richmond, California, where land is scarce and expensive, the UC Berkeley/DU team set out to design a home that is simple, affordable, and sustainable. The result is R I S ☰ (RISE), a single-family home that meets the requirements of the Solar Decathlon competition, but is ultimately planned as just the first floor of a three-story multifamily housing building. The house design features moveable walls, so the unit can transform from a one-bedroom to a two-bedroom unit, depending on the needs of the occupants.

Washington State’s Solar Decathlon house is planned as part of a village of not-quite-tiny houses that can fill an urban lot, which already has access to services, infrastructure, and utilities but may be a little too small or oddly shaped to be attractive to more conventional development.

The sustainability of the Swiss Team’s Solar Decathlon house goes beyond energy and materials. Its house is designed to be highly flexible so that over its long lifetime it can be whatever the community around it needs it to be—from a house to a community center to a bike shop or grocery store.

The Missouri S&T team will locate its SILO house in a solar village on campus, where it joins houses from five past Solar Decathlon competitions. Collectively, the village and its houses are called the S&T Solar House Project, which is a truly immersive learning experience, where student team members live in and learn from the existing houses while designing and building another one.

This sneak preview can give you an initial idea of the design approaches you’ll find at Solar Decathlon 2017, but there’s so much more to see. Visit the team pages to check out additional photos, videos, and details about the house (or houses) of your dreams.

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.



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