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Solar Decathlon Blog

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Blog provides regular updates about Solar Decathlon news and events.

Achieving Zero Energy While Meeting Unique Homeowner Needs

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.”

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Sneak Peek of Solar Decathlon 2020 Build Challenge Team Progress

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.

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

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.”

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

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

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Mojave Bloom: A Therapeutic Home for Post-Traumatic Healing

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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Announcing the New Solar Decathlon 2021 Design Challenge Teams!

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.

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

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.

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David Gavin is #SDLivingtheDream:
Designing for a Cause!

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

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

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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Mentoring 101: How to Teach College Students What Textbooks Can’t

September 29, 2020

Most colleges don’t offer a course that can teach you how to navigate the real world. Sure, classroom learning provides students with a solid technical foundation in their chosen areas of study, but essential professional skills like negotiation, compromise, and flexibility aren’t covered in most textbooks. For the answers to life’s most challenging questions, you need a mentor.

If there were degrees in Real Life Experience, a group of more than 30 students from Weber State University would earn top honors. These students managed to design and build a six-bedroom, 2,450 square foot home that is powered entirely by the sun and can go off grid for three days—or longer—as part of their Solar Decathlon 2020 senior project.

Jeremy Farner, an associate professor of building design and construction at Weber State University, served as the team’s faculty advisor on the project. Now that he has successfully advised two Solar Decathlon Design Challenge competitions and Weber State’s most recent Build Challenge, there is no doubt he has what it takes to mentor the next generation of green building professionals.

Several students from the WSU build team

Jeremy Farner, fourth from right, stands with students on the Solar Decathlon 2020 Build project team representing the Building Design & Construction, Interior Design, and Construction Management programs in February 2020. Photo by Weber State University

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Weber State University Team Profile

September 21, 2020

The Net Zero Wildcats of Weber State University, hailing from Ogden, Utah, join us for our first TEAM PROFILE of the 2020 Solar Decathlon! Thanks for taking the time, folks, so let’s get right to the questions.

First, with a team name like that, I have to ask – do you have a mascot?
We do–Waldo the Wildcat!

We have to see a picture of this mascot…
Now, is this your first time participating in the Solar Decathlon?
This is the first time we have participated in the Solar Decathlon Build Challenge. We have previously competed twice in the Race to Zero competition [now called Solar Decathlon Design Challenge].

How many team members do you have right now?
We have had as many as 50 students work on the project, but the current team is comprised of 12 students.

A group photo of the WEBER STATE UNIVERSITY More »

Sol Haroon is #SDLivingtheDream:
Leading the Future Through Building-Design Efficiency and Renewable Energy Education!

September 15, 2020

Sol completed his BASc (Applied Science) at the University of Waterloo in Ontario and his MS at the Georgia Institute of Technology; he is currently pursuing (part-time) his MBA at the Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech.

In the latest edition of our #SDLivingtheDream series, we introduce Sol Haroon. An alumnus of the 2018 Design Challenge, Sol pushes boundaries in the renewable energy and building design projects he leads, or contributes to as an engineer. Read on to find out more about Sol’s role in creating the largest Living Building in the Southeast!


Name: Sol Haroon

Year participated in Solar Decathlon: 2018 Design Challenge

University team: Georgia Institute of Technology

Current organization / employer: United Renewables, also pursuing an MBA at Georgia Institute of Technology

Current role: Lead Engineer/Consulting Instructor

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