Solar Decathlon 2011 - Ultimate Solar DIY Experience

Solar Decathalon 2011 | The University of Calgary's Technological Residence, Traditional (TRTL) | image source: John Dove
Solar Decathalon 2011 | The University of Calgary's Technological Residence, Traditional (TRTL) | image source: John Dove

The future solar home -- is here today!

I had the opportunity to visit the 2011 Solar Decathlon held in Washington, D.C. at the end of September. It was a beautiful day with crowds of people lined up to take an inside tour of every solar house.

I was awed by the talent and applied creativity of student teams from colleges and universities around the world.

Nineteen solar homes were constructed on The National Mall in Potomac Park -- each home planned, designed, engineered and operated by an interdisciplinary collegiate team.

Canada's tipi-inspired rounded-dome solar home

Take Team Canada for example. The University of Calgary's solar home was called the "Technological Residence, Traditional (TRTL)," because it combines today's techology with tradional culture.

The unusual round form of this home was inspired by the tipi of the Treaty 7 native Peoples in Southern Alberta.

It featured a highly efficient photovoltaic system engineered for harsh climates.

Canada's entry finished in 10th place with 836.423 points.

Solar Decathlon --The Ultimate Solar DIY Experience

The Solar Decathlon, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, is a brilliant way to demonstrate that affordable homes can be built today that are energy efficient, contain energy-efficient appliances, use energy systems that are renewable -- and are affordable.

To be successful, teams of students from different academic disciplines must work together to produce an integrated total design.

Team members might call this the Ultimate Solar DIY Experience because they gain vital hands on experience. They are preparing themselves for renewable energy work in the 21st century. What a valuable experience!

Solar Decathlon 2011 | The Solar Homestead by Appalachian State University, Boone, Kentucky. Winner of the Peoples Choice Award | image credit: John Dove
Solar Decathlon 2011 | The Solar Homestead by Appalachian State University, Boone, Kentucky. Winner of the Peoples Choice Award | image credit: John Dove
Solar Decathlon 2011 | The INhome (Indiana Home) by Purdue University - designed as a typical Midwestern Home but with energy efficient technology throughout | image credit: John Dove
Solar Decathlon 2011 | The INhome (Indiana Home) by Purdue University - designed as a typical Midwestern Home but with energy efficient technology throughout | image credit: John Dove

Each solar home judged in 10 contests -- plus a Peoples Choice Award

There are ten contests that each team's entry is judged on -- just like in the Olympic decathlon where each athlete is competes in 10 athletic events.

Each team's entry receives a numerical score from 0 to 100 for each contest -- 1000 points total. Some contests are scored by a jury; others are measured. A winning team must score well in every contest:

  1. Architecture contest (juried)
  2. Market Appeal contest (juried)
  3. Engineering contest (juried)
  4. Communications contest (juried)
  5. Affordability contest (juried)
  6. Comfort Zone contest (measured)
  7. Hot Water contest (measured)
  8. Appliances contest (measured)
  9. Home Entertainment contest (measured and juried)
  10. Energy Balance contest (measured)

Solar Decathlon 2011 | China's Tongji University's Y-shaped Solar House (Note Washington Monument in background.) | image credit: John Dove
Solar Decathlon 2011 | China's Tongji University's Y-shaped Solar House (Note Washington Monument in background.) | image credit: John Dove

China's solar house uses recycled shipping containers

China's Tongji University's entry was a fascinating "Y"-shaped solar house. It combined six recycled shipping containers in an unusual design. The team effectively transformed prefabricated shipping containers into a modern living environment.

I noted some symbolism in their use of recycled shipping containers as China has become a leader in world trade -- shipping products in containers.

The Y-house featured vacuum insulation materials and phase-change materials to block heat transfer and moderate the interior temperature.

An integrated system for domestic hot water supply and floor heating uses heat recovery from a solar thermal collector.

Team China's entry finished in 15th place with 765.41 points. Strangely, it received 0 points for "energy balance" despite China's rapid move into solar energy.

And the winner is . . . Maryland's WaterShed

The 2011 winner was a team from Maryland. The University of Maryland's WaterShed -- inspired by The Chesapeake Bay, this house shows showcases how the building and site can help preserve watersheds through innovative water management.

Their total score of 951.151 was achieved by ranking first to fourth place in every one of the ten contest categories.

Solar Decathlon building code and rules

Each team's design must meet detailed Solar Decathlon building codes and rules. This puts all the teams on a level playing field. The rules govern exactly how and when the solar houses will be judged. Standards to protect the health and safety of both occupants and visitors are included in the codes and regulations.

Solar Decathlon provides full range of education resources

On my visit to the 201I saw long lines of students from many schools on field trips to the 2011 Solar Decathlon. I saw buses from public and private schools. There were students from colleges as well as secondary schools.

This is a once-every-two-year event. If you are a teacher within travel range of Washington, D.C., it provides a personal, up-close look at the future of solar homes and sustainable living.

Solar Decathlon provides study curricula and resource materials for teachers and students.

The 2009 Solar Decathlon provided solar workshops for consumers and anyone interested in the future of solar energy, smart grids and energy efficiency. The 2011 Decathlon also offered consumer workshops which will most probably be posted on the web sometime soon.

Solar energy for home DIY

The Solar Decathlon might even encourage you to build your own solar panel as a DIY hobby project, or even to power appliances.

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Have you toured a solar home? What do you think? 3 comments

American Romance profile image

American Romance 5 years ago from America

Drive around your neighborhood, now drive around the next one,...what do you see? Natural gas and oil producing the power to sustain a comfortable and affordable life!...........end of story.........just like Solyndra!


John Dove profile image

John Dove 5 years ago Author

Hi American Romance --

You're right on! That oil is also producing the lavish lifestyles of the powerful in the Middle East.


RGEES profile image

RGEES 5 years ago from NC

I really liked Solar Decathlon 2011. Great designs, new technologies.....

Phase change material trombe wall - awesome!What can be better than passive heating-cooling?

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