20 Solar Homes Take Shape on the National Mall for the Solar Decathlon

The assembly of 20 solar homes on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is rapidly approaching completion, as the 2009 Solar Decathlon prepares to open, free to the public, on October 9th. The Solar Decathlon is an international event in which DOE challenges university teams to design and build homes that run entirely on solar energy.

The teams ship their partially constructed homes to the National Mall, assemble them, and then compete in ten contests. This year, the 20 teams came from universities in Arizona, California, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin, as well as Puerto Rico, Canada, Germany, and Spain.

Trucks rolled onto the National Mall just after midnight on the morning of October 1, and since then, the teams have been steadily working to assemble their solar homes. This is the fourth running of the Solar Decathlon, and for the first time, the competition features a stand-alone electrical microgrid to which each team will have to connect their home.

Starting today (October 8), each home will be monitored for its performance in five areas relating to performance and livability: comfort (maintaining comfortable temperature and humidity in the home), hot water (producing a sufficient quantity at a high enough temperature), appliances (such as keeping refrigerated items at the right temperature), home entertainment (running a television, computer, lights, and other devices), and net metering. For the net-metering competition, homes must use zero net energy over the course of a week, and teams receive a bonus for producing more energy than their home consumes.

Other contests rate the teams for their communications with the public and for the architecture, engineering, and market viability of their homes. The overall winner will be announced on October 16.

DOE is the primary sponsor of the 2009 Solar Decathlon, which is also sponsored and managed by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Homes will open to the public beginning on October 9, and will be open for tours weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends, through October 18 (with the exception of October 14).

Not able to come to D.C.? You can keep up with the Solar Decathlon online through daily journals posted by DOE’s Richard King, the Solar Decathlon director; photos of the day from the event; YouTube videos; time-lapse photos from three cameras at the event; blogs from the teams; the Solar Decathlon Facebook page (become a fan!); and even a Twitter feed!

[Editor’s note:  RenewableEnergyWorld.com’s Graham Jesmer is in DC shooting video and conducting interviews at the Solar Decathlon.  Stay tuned for updates next week. Solar Nation’s Chris Stimpson is posting blogs from the event as well, click on our blogs section to take a look.]

Kevin Eber is a senior science writer at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. In that capacity, he has promoted energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies for nearly 20 years.

This article was first published in the U.S. Department of Energy’s EERE Network News and was reprinted with permission.

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