Each year, the Department of Energy hosts their annual Solar Decathlon, a competition which challenges bright young engineers to design, build and operate the most attractive and efficient clean energy powered houses. This annual event has fathered many practical ideas that can live in the ‘real world’ where a lot of untried theories fall flat.
Interdisciplinary collegiate teams strive to earn points for design, marketability, affordability, engineering and energy efficiency, and their ability to communicate their design vision with a clear and consistent message. The competition has rules, of course, that allow the jury to compare apples to apples. The house size, conveniences, appliances and power requirements for modern living are all detailed and built according to code. Maxing out at 1,000 square feet, some entries have gone on to become second homes or vacation cottages for private owners.
2013’s winner was Team Austria who nosed out the University of Las Vegas by a mere 4.35 points (out of a maximum 1,000 possible). Their LISI Home shows that we’re way beyond hippie rustic with its sleek, elegant Scandinavian inspired design. And, like some of its predecessors, you can buy one for yourself.
One of the more provocative entries was 2005’s Solar Hydrogen Home. Christened “The Green Machine-Blue Space” by its designers at the New York Institute of Technology, this creative design featured complex engineering that used solar power to crack water into its separate gas components. They captured the hydrogen, stored it in a special vessel with redundant safety features, and used hydrogen to power the home! Admittedly, this was a little weak on the “affordability” category, and requires careful safety measures. We haven’t seen much tweaking on it – yet. But it does provoke thinking outside the box. And it’s hard to imagine a rural farm that would not benefit from this technology. This home now stands) on the grounds of the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy.
The competition has expanded to Europe, China, Latin America and the Middle East. Every two years, the public here in the United States has the chance to see the latest in affordable clean energy solutions as the Decathlon is on display. This year, you can see it at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California, October 8-18. Admission is no charge.
Photo Credit: Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon