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Solar Decathlon 2007

Podcasts: Overview with DOE's Richard King (Text Version)

Below is the text version of the podcast episode recorded by DOE's Richard King. Visit the Solar Decathlon Podcasts section to subscribe to the podcast or download individual audio files.

Hello, my name is Richard King and I am the Director of the Solar Decathlon here at the United States Department of Energy in Washington, DC. Welcome, and I hope you enjoy our third Solar Decathlon event—a competition that challenges the world's best and brightest to design the most energy efficient house—a house that obtains all its power from clean, free solar energy.

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So, you may wonder, "What exactly is the Solar Decathlon?"

Well, it's all pretty complex, but, at its core, the Solar Decathlon is a contest to design, build, and operate the most attractive, energy-efficient house that is totally self-sufficient. These houses obtain all the energy they need using only the sunlight that shines on the home.

The competition is complex because the Solar Decathlon is about building the house, as well as design, attractiveness, and functionality. These houses come complete with a gourmet kitchen, master bedroom and bath, washer and dryer, home theater and maybe even a hot tub—all powered by sunlight—which, as you probably know, doesn't cost a penny to use. The students competing in the Solar Decathlon use brains, brawn, resourcefulness, and creativity. And some teams even employ secret weapons to earn points and win each of the ten decathlon contests.

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The Solar Decathlon gets its name from the ten ways the houses are scored in the overall competition. Each of the ten individual contests has points assigned. Collectively, these contests cover the major design and performance elements of a house. Some are judged by panels of experts who look at the aesthetic of design and curb appeal, as well as innovation. Other contests are measured for performance, such as heating and cooling, hot water, refrigeration, illumination, and transportation. Each contest addresses a specific feature or energy requirement of the house but, collectively, they make up a comprehensive assessment of all that makes a house a warm, secure, functional, and pleasing place to live. There are a total of 1200 points available to earn. The ten contests are:

  1. Architecture for 200 pts
  2. Engineering for 150 pts
  3. Market Viability for 150 pts
  4. Communications for 100 pts
  5. Comfort Zone for 100 pts
  6. Appliances for 100 pts
  7. Hot Water for 100 pts
  8. Lighting for 100 pts
  9. Energy Balance for 100 pts
  10. Getting Around for 100 pts

That adds up to 1200 points, and each category has a special amount of work, thought, and skill associated with winning points. And, believe me, the teams are very strategic in their methods for winning.

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Just who are these teams, you may ask?

Well, the Solar Decathlon is a competition among twenty teams from some of the world's most distinguished universities. Each team is made up of 20–50 fiercely competitive architecture, engineering, business, design, and communications students—and faculty.

Each team in the competition has its own strengths and personality. There are universities noted for architecture such as Cornell University and Carnegie Mellon University. There are technical schools with strong engineering programs, such as MIT and Georgia IT. And there are schools that are strong in both engineering and architecture.

We have Midwest schools with can-do attitudes and hands-on practicality coming from Cincinnati, Ohio; Austin Texas; Rolla, Missouri; and Manhattan, Kansas. We have a team that crossing a continent from California, one that is crossing a border from Canada, and three crossing an ocean from Europe and Puerto Rico. And they are all coming to Washington to try to upset the two-time defending champion: the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Now, how does a team get into the Solar Decathlon?

Teams are selected through a proposal process. For the 2009 competition, an invitation was sent out on October 12th, 2007, and posted on our web site at Every college or university interested in participating must write a proposal describing how they will organize a team, design and build a house, and raise the funds necessary to have a successful entry. The 20 best proposals will be selected for entry and awarded $100,000 from the U.S. Department of Energy. Teams are responsible for raising any additional funds necessary for their entries.

So, I invite you to come down to the National Mall for this year's event, which is open free of charge to the public.

The solar village—the temporary town where the houses are built and judged—is located on the Mall between 7th and 14th Streets. The contest begins Friday, October 12th. The Secretary of Energy will be cutting the ribbon to open the village at 10:00 AM.

The houses are open for public tours from 10:00 AM to 5:00 PM weekends and 11:00 AM to 3:00 PM weekdays, except Wednesday, October 17th, when the houses are closed to tours while they are being monitored for indoor temperature and humidity.

So I invite you to come down to see the houses and talk with the students. The work they've done is nothing less than amazing. The third-generation designs of the homes in this year's competition are on the leading edge of the green housing movement. They are tremendously innovative and incorporate features that provide financial value and personal satisfaction while improving the planet. You may even get some ideas to take back to your home. Thank you for listening—and let the competition begin!