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Solar Decathlon 2007 Draws 100,000 To See Energy-Efficient Homes

Some funny-looking homes went up in Washington, D.C., last week. There's something even more odd about these houses: no electric meter. The Solar Decathlon is a competition to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The contestants opened their projects to the public on October 12, 2007. (photos)

This is why I went to MIT? Paul Gaffuri gets water pumped into the holding tank. The teams are required to make their houses function like the average person’s home, and they are required to wash dishes and clothes, as well as run the shower. (Photo: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)

The public descended on the Mall like oil lobbyists on a new Congress. But these people were here to see 20 solar powered homes, following the Solar Decathlon Opening Ceremony. Organizers expect more than 100,000 visitors during the competition. (Photo: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)

Yes, it was supposed to turn out looking like this. Brad Lutz with the Kansas Project Solar House (Kansas State University and University of Kansas) talks to visitors about his team’s extensive use of structural insulated panels. (Photo: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman has kept a high profile every day of the 2007 Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. His agency is positioning the event as a cornerstone of the Bush administration's Solar America Initiative. (Photo: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)

Cruising the Mall, Christie Zangrilli and Ami Mehta of the University of Texas drive a Global Electric Motorcars (GEM) vehicle. Universities in the competition score points for the number of miles they are able to drive in the electric cars, which are charged from solar panels on their houses. (Photo: Kaye Evans-Lutterodt/Solar Decathlon)

A few weeks ago, college and university teams from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Spain converged on Washington, D.C., for a battery of ten competitions to assemble a "solar village" on the National Mall.

The "Solar Decathlon" is on, and the overall winner will be announced this Friday. (Update -- Winners!)

Ten competitions in one

Solar Decathlon houses must power all the home energy needs of a typical household using only the power of the sun. The winner of the competition is the team that does the best job of blending aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and optimal efficiency.

During the 10-day competition, students will test their homes in 10 contests encompassing all the ways homeowners use energy in their daily lives. Contests range from architecture, marketability and comfort to how well the homes perform tasks such as heating water and powering appliances. Each team must also provide enough solar electricity to power an electric car.

Helping the U.S. maintain its technological competitive edge

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) developed the Solar Decathlon for three main reasons: To encourage young people to pursue careers in science and engineering; to raise awareness among the general public about renewable energy and energy efficiency and what technologies are available today to help people reduce their energy usage; and to help move solar energy technologies to the marketplace faster.

Eye on the prize

The student teams spend almost two years designing and building their approximately 800-square-foot homes and preparing for the competition.

DOE awards the selected teams $100,000 each over two years to support the Solar Decathlon's research goal of reducing the cost of solar-powered homes and advancing solar technology. In most cases, this amount is less than half of the funds needed to mount a Solar Decathlon entry. Team members dedicate considerable time, energy and ingenuity to enlisting community and industry support for the remaining funding.

In case you're bored, there's more to see

In addition to the team houses, the solar village features energy efficiency and renewable energy exhibits and activities for the visiting public.

More to come

Two previous Solar Decathlons have been held, with the first in 2002 and the most recent in 2005. The University of Colorado was the overall winner of both previous Decathlons. Another Solar Decathlon will be held in fall 2009. The request for proposals for the 2009 Solar Decathlon will be released during the 2007 event.

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