U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 Set to Begin

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 is taking shape as teams work around the clock to assemble 19 solar homes on the National Mall’s West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C., in time for the 10 a.m. September 23 opening. The Solar Decathlon is an international DOE competition that offers university teams a chance to design and build homes that run entirely on solar energy. Teams ship their structures to the site, assemble them, and then compete in ten contests.

The biennial event, launched in 2002 and organized by DOE’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory, is free to the public. The Decathlon runs through October 2. See the kick-off Energy Blog post and the Solar Decathlon website.

This year, 19 teams came from universities in California, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia, as well as Belgium, Canada, China, and New Zealand. For this sixth running of the Solar Decathlon, each home will once again 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 for washing and bathing), appliances (such as keeping refrigerated items at the right temperature), home entertainment (running lights, computers, and other devices), and energy balance.

For the energy balance portion, homes must even out energy consumption and generation so that they use zero net energy over the course of a week. Other contests use experts to rate the teams for their communications with the public, as well as the affordability, architecture, engineering, and market appeal of their homes. The winner of the competition, to be announced on October 1, is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. See the list of contests.

In 2009, the Solar Decathlon provided 307,502 house visits to the public over 10 days on the National Mall, while offering 32 public workshops onsite and holding a dedicated day of workshops for builders and industry professionals. The event also partnered with the National Education Association, which broadcasted daily educational programming to classrooms around the nation. In its new location in West Potomac Park, the Solar Decathlon is scheduled to be open 10 a.m.–2 p.m. EDT on weekdays, and from 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. EDT on weekends. See 2009 Solar Decathlon coverage in EERE Network News.

Ernie Tucker is an NREL staff writer who has worked as a writer and editor in a variety of media, including newspapers, television and online content.

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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