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Solar Decathlon Blog - Solar Decathlon

Below you will find Solar Decathlon news from the Solar Decathlon archive, sorted by date.

Visit Solar Decathlon’s First Virtual Village to Tour One-of-a-Kind, High-Performance Homes Online!

Monday, March 29, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy is excited to announce the opening of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® Virtual Village – now live and open to the public!

The Virtual Village will showcase zero energy homes designed and constructed around the world by Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Challenge teams. Industry partners, schools, future collegiate teams, and the interested public are invited to participate in no-cost, virtual tours of the homes, hosted by participating teams.

Visitors can experience these one-of-a-kind homes in this first-ever Solar Decathlon Virtual Village “located” on the National Mall, where the first Solar Decathlon event was launched in 2002.

Visitors can also participate in a Solar Decathlon home scavenger hunt, and a toolkit will be available to help teachers bring students to the Virtual Village for unique educational activities.

Live virtual home tours with student teams will occur at the following times:

The 2020 Build Challenge Competition Event and public exhibition were previously scheduled to take place on the National Mall in the summer of 2020, with each team’s house included in the constructed village for public tours. Due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the 2020 event was postponed and transitioned to a local build event, with teams constructing their homes in their local communities where they will remain after the competition. Moving forward, Solar Decathlon Build Challenge teams will follow this local build model, with the next competition scheduled for 2023.

About the Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition that prepares the next generation of building professionals to design and build high-performance, low-carbon buildings powered by renewables. The Design Challenge is a one- to two-semester, design-only competition, while the Build Challenge is a two-year design-build competition.

Funded by the Building Technologies Office, Solar Decathlon continues to advance the design of high-performance, energy efficient, affordable, innovative buildings while promoting student innovation, STEM education, and workforce development opportunities in the buildings industry. Since 2002, the Solar Decathlon has challenged more than 20,000 students to push the envelope in creating innovative, affordable, and highly energy efficient buildings.

Buildings account for 74% of electricity use, 39% of total energy use, and 35% of carbon emissions in the United States. Solar Decathlon supports a key strategy for tackling climate challenges—developing a workforce well equipped to design and construct a low-carbon building stock and to deliver an equitable clean energy future.

Additional details are available on the Solar Decathlon website.

Sixty-Three Finalist Teams Vying to Be One of Two Grand Winners of Solar Decathlon 2021 Design Challenge

Monday, March 22, 2021

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® announced the 63 Finalist Teams of the 2021 Design Challenge. These teams submitted detailed Design Proposals and were selected from the initial 103 Participating Teams, representing 75 collegiate institutions.

The Finalist Teams, representing 57 collegiate institutions, are competing in one of seven Divisions: Suburban Single-Family Housing, Urban Single-Family Housing, Attached Housing, Mixed-Use Multifamily Building, Elementary School, Office Building, and Retail Building.


Inspiring Tomorrow’s Buildings Leaders: Solar Decathlon Launches 2022 and 2023 Editions

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Mark your calendars for the next editions of Solar Decathlon! Today, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® announced the launch of the 2022 Design Challenge and 2023 Build Challenge.

The 2022 Design Challenge is an annual design competition which encourages teams to develop zero energy residential and commercial designs while working with design partners to address real-world needs. Student teams will present their projects to jurors in Spring 2022 at a competition hosted by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado.

The 2023 Build Challenge is a two-year design-build competition in which collegiate teams construct zero energy homes in their own communities. After presenting their preliminary designs and progress, finalist teams will be selected at the 2022 spring event. Finalists will then go back to their communities to build their homes, undertake required measurements, and ultimately compete in a juried event in 2023.


Achieving Zero Energy While Meeting Unique Homeowner Needs

Thursday, March 4, 2021

A 100% clean energy economy capable of battling climate change will include a strong foundation of zero energy homes—a house that can produce as much energy as it uses. Such homes don’t have to be bare-bones and uncomfortable. Quite the opposite, in fact. Student-led teams competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® Build Challenge are proving they can blend architectural design and engineering excellence with innovation, market potential, building efficiency, and smart energy production, all with the “comforts of home.”


Sneak Peek of Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Challenge Team Progress

Thursday, February 11, 2021

We recently announced that the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® will virtually host its rescheduled 2020 Build Challenge and 2021 Design Challenge competition events from Thursday, April 15, to Sunday, April 18, 2021. With just a few more weeks before hundreds of college students compete in the Solar Decathlon’s 10 Contests, the competition organizers would like to highlight some of the truly amazing progress being made by our Build Challenge teams, who are completing their local, solar-powered home builds against all odds.

It’s clear that these teams are bringing a new level of commitment and determination to this—dare we say, unprecedented—Solar Decathlon event. Before we show you where they stand, please mark your calendar to join us for the virtual event featuring dynamic team presentations, interactive sessions, and networking opportunities with these next-gen green building professionals.

AmeriCorps to the Rescue

A photo of three people standing in a framed house

The Net Positive Studio by Kansas State integrates prefabrication building technology, net-zero energy performance, and affordability. Photo from Kansas State Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Challenge Team

The Kansas State University team has worked closely with their partners to make construction progress while attending school remotely through the fall semester. Kansas State leveraged AmeriCorps volunteers to help construct their Net Positive Studio. When complete, this Solar Decathlon entry will become home to a low-income family in St. John, Kansas, through the Stafford County Economic Development organization. In a burst of recent activity, small groups of students are working to install prefabricated interior walls on the inside of the home to finish the job.


Save the Date for the Solar Decathlon Competition Event; Virtual Format Opens Participation to Broader Audience

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Save the Date for the Solar Decathlon Competition Event; Virtual Format Opens Participation to Broader Audience

Mark your calendars! The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® will host its rescheduled 2020 Build Challenge and 2021 Design Challenge competition events virtually, from Thursday, April 15 to Sunday, April 18, 2021. This virtual event will feature dynamic team presentations, interactive sessions, and networking opportunities for all collegiate teams in the United States and around the world.

The Build Challenge competition event was previously scheduled to be on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in summer of 2020. The annual Design Challenge competition event is traditionally hosted by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, in Golden, Colorado.

“While we will miss celebrating the excitement and passion in person, we want to ensure the teams are still given an opportunity to complete this unparalleled and valuable experience,” said Holly Jamesen Carr, director of Solar Decathlon for the Building Technologies Office. “We have seen how this competition has positively impacted the trajectory of many careers and elevated the importance of building efficiency.”

Read more

Heather Greene is #SDLivingtheDream:
A Project Engineer Who is Hands-On, Too

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A lot of hard work goes into putting up a large commercial building, as Heather Greene has learned! In this edition of #SDLivingtheDream, we hear about Heather’s path from the 2015 Solar Decathlon to a rewarding career as a project engineer.


Name: Heather Greene

Year participated: 2015

University team: Casa Del Sol (Orange County)

Current organization/employer: Hensel Phelps

Current role: Project Engineer


Mojave Bloom: A Therapeutic Home for Post-Traumatic Healing

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Architects are really good at a lot of things, but one quality in particular stands out to Eric Weber, an Associate Professor of Architecture at the University of Nevada Las Vegas (UNLV). He believes that once architects understand the nature of a challenge, they excel at developing thoughtful responses to it. Maybe that is why Weber’s Design + Build students chose to create a home that supports veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) for their U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® 2020 Build Challenge entry, Mojave Bloom.

Team Las Vegas includes four veterans, one service member’s spouse, and Weber himself who is a Desert Storm­ veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. Furthermore, Las Vegas is home to many former service members due to its proximity to Nellis Air Force Base and the U.S. Air Force Warfare Center. The mission of finding solutions for the challenges that returning soldiers face not only hit close to home, but really resonated with the team.

UNLV students collage

The UNLV students on Team Las Vegas developed the Mojave Bloom concept as a
sustainable salute to military veterans.


Zach Berzolla is #SDLivingtheDream:
Using a Multidisciplinary Approach for Effective Building Design

Monday, December 14, 2020

For this edition of #SDLivingtheDream we learn about Zach Berzolla, a 2018 Middlebury College team alumnus. He shares with us the work he is doing at MIT, along with key concepts that he has learned for successful building design, from Solar Decathlon. How about that for a doer designer!


Name: Zach Berzolla

Year participated in Solar Decathlon: 2018 Design Challenge

University team: Middlebury College

 Current organization / employer: Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sustainable Design Lab

Current role: Research Assistant/ SMBT Student

How did participation in the Solar Decathlon affect the trajectory of your career?

I knew I was interested in zero energy buildings, but the Solar Decathlon cemented for me that I wanted to make this field my career. Furthermore,  as I started working with the multidisciplinary team I assembled for the Race to Zero, I realized the importance of an integrated design process. This was one of the reasons I ended up at the MIT Sustainable Design Lab for my master’s; the lab is multi-disciplinary and focused on tools and analyses that architects, engineers, and policy-makers can all understand.

 Describe a work outcome, building project or other achievement you are most proud of and how (if) it relates to your experience with Solar Decathlon.

At MIT, I have been working with other members of my lab to make urban building energy modeling tools accessible to every city so that they can make physics-backed decisions on how to meet their emissions reduction goals. Through Solar Decathlon trainings and collaborations, I learned the applied building physics that underlie every building upgrade strategy we propose to meet these emissions reduction goals.

Zach at VERMOD Homes, a project that he sought out, which was inspired by his Solar Decathlon work. He documented improvements to the factory process for their zero-energy manufactured homes.

Solar Decathlon Technology Innovation Blog Series: Building Enclosures

Thursday, December 3, 2020

This is the first in a monthly series on Solar Decathlon Build Challenge technology innovations, through which we will explore innovative technologies and strategies 2020 Build Challenge teams are employing in their houses. This month’s post focuses on building enclosures – or walls, windows, roof of the homes. Stay tuned for posts on indoor comfort, energy performance, water efficiency, and much more!

Since 2002, the Solar Decathlon has invited collegiate teams to design and build highly efficient and innovative buildings powered by renewable energy. As we ramp up to the Solar Decathlon Competition in April 2021, the new Solar Decathlon Tech Innovation blog series will highlight innovative products and strategies teams are employing in their homes to achieve competition goals. This edition focuses on building enclosures. We caught up with representatives from three Solar Decathlon student teams learn more about their unique approaches to walls, windows and roofs.

Kansas State University’s Net Positive Studio is a multiyear effort in which students pursuing a master’s in architecture work with local groups in Kansas City’s Historic Northeast neighborhood. The Kansas State team is developing a high quality energy-efficient home that is affordable for low-income households.

The Warrior Home team designed by the University of Waterloo team in Ontario, Canada, has completed a four-bedroom, single-family home to address the cultural and societal needs of families within the Chippewas of Nawash indigenous community in southwest Ontario.

The CampusCraft team at the University of Denver has undertaken the net-zero renovation of a single-family residence located in the Denver floodplain. CampusCraft has developed a cost-effective plan following Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) guidelines to update a 1950s home with energy-efficient technologies.

What is your home’s enclosure technology or strategy, and why did it make sense for this house?

The Kansas State team went prefab, putting components together in their facility on-campus in Manhattan, Kansas, then moving them to the building site in Kansas City.

“Inside our panels, we have conventional wood-stick framing,” said Michael Gibson, an associate professor at Kansas State. “But I think the main difference is we’re using a polyurethane-based structural insulated panel (SIP) from Raycore. Their panels have foam with 2-by framing within the panel. And so we use that as our load-bearing structure—our walls—and then we put oriented strand board (OS) on the outside of that, and then continuous insulation on the outside of that. And then we use Huber’s ZIP System® on the outside as our weather barrier and an air barrier system.”


to people installing the structural insulated panel (SIP) from Raycore.


Brett Horin is #SDLivingtheDream:
Seeing the Impacts in the Real World

Monday, November 16, 2020

This month in our #SDLivingtheDream series, you’ll meet Brett Horin, who competed with Illinois Tech in the 2018 Design Challenge and who has gone on to work in energy modeling in the architecture industry, fueled by his experience in the Solar Decathlon.


Name: Brett Horin

Year participated in Solar Decathlon: 2018

University team: Illinois Institute of Technology

Current organization / employer: Lamar Johnson Collaborative/Clayco

Current role: Energy Modeler


Announcing the New Solar Decathlon 2021 Design Challenge Teams!

Friday, November 6, 2020

Is your alma mater on this list? 103 teams from 75 collegiate institutions are participating in the upcoming U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® Design Challenge! Announced in February, the finalists will compete for a chance to present their projects at an expert-juried event on the weekend of April 16–18, 2021.


Meet Celcius: A Sustainable Home that Reflects the Students Who Built It

Friday, October 23, 2020

Three years ago, a group of students from the Netherlands focused on the concept of circularity in their entry to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® competition. Their entry, Selficient, showcased the benefits of a home designed to be endlessly recyclable, growing and reconfiguring to adapt to the homeowners’ needs at every stage in their lives. Selficient earned second place in the Market Potential Contest and seventh place overall.

Fast-forward to 2020. A new team from Hogeschool Utrecht (HU) University of Applied Science in the Netherlands is competing in the Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Challenge. Inspired by HU’s 2017 team, the new Netherlands team is further developing the concept of a house that has “Circular, Eye-opening, Limitless, Community, Innovative, Unconventional and Self-sufficient” (CELCIUS) as its building blocks. Together, Team Celcius is building a next-generation home that reflects these core values.

Computer image of a rectangular home that has solar panels on the roof, brown wooden exterior paneling, and floor-to-ceiling windows interspersed with exterior living walls.

This computer rendering of the Celcius house represents the base unit that the HU team is building to compete in Solar Decathlon 2020. Because every component is interchangeable, every room scalable, and every pipeline movable, a target customer can begin living in this relatively simple version of the home and upgrade it over time.


David Gavin is #SDLivingtheDream:
Designing for a Cause!

Monday, October 19, 2020

In this edition of our #SDLivingtheDream series, we introduce you to David Gavin, a Team UMD Solar Decathlon alumnus who focuses on sustainable design in his everyday work. Read on to find out how David is using his building-design skills to help domestic violence victims.


Name: David Gavin

Year participated in Solar Decathlon:  2011

University team: University of Maryland

Current organization/employer: Quinn Evans Architects

Current role: Architect / Associate / Sustainability Leadership Team


Register for BTO’s Webinars on Life-Cycle Impacts of Buildings

Monday, October 5, 2020

This fall, DOE’s Building Technologies Office will host a series of webinars that explore the frameworks and techniques researchers use to evaluate the energy use of buildings over their entire lifespans, from construction to operation to eventual destruction. The Life-Cycle Energy & Related Impacts of Buildings Webinar Series will give the public, national lab researchers, academics, and all members of the buildings industry a special opportunity to hear from leading experts who work at the cutting-edge of lifecycle analysis.




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