Gallery: SOLAR DECATHLON: Solar house design competition


How difficult is it to design a house fully powered by the sun? That’s what the U.S. Department of Energy is trying to find out. To do this, they have staged, once again, the Solar decathlon, a competition challenging 20 college teams from around the globe to design, build, and operate an energy-efficient, fully solar-powered house that will be able to satisfy the needs of a typical family, and look good doing it.

The 20 college teams, ranging from the MIT to Germany’s Technische Universität Darmstadt, will build their prototypes and transport them to the National Mall in Washington this October. Together, they will create a solar village, which will be open to the public for perusal. Using the newest products and technologies on the market, the students push the boundaries of residential solar viability, all in the context of a collaborative design process. We covered the Solar Decathlon back in 2005, and the results were very impressive. Check out 2005’s winning designs from the University of Colorado and Cornell below.

What are the demands of the contest? The houses must be able to provide enough energy to power proper lighting, run appliances and even to charge the Gemcar, an electric car made by Global Electric Motorcars. To generate the power, the teams are allowed to use photovoltaic systems, solar thermal systems, and solar hot water systems. The teams are allowed to use their own initiatives as long as the energy source comes from the sun. Because the energy available through the PVs is limited, teams will have to install energy efficient appliances and create an efficient lighting design. The houses will also need proper insulation in order to maintain a stable temperature and reduce the need for heating and cooling.

While technology is an important part of the competition, good solid design is what helps the most. In a house where every kilowatt counts, proper orientation and daylight access becomes invaluable. “One of the guiding principles is that we would be using daylighting and natural ventilation as much as possible,” said Corey Fucetola, MIT’s team leader.

The event takes place on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., October 12 – 20. The team houses are open for touring everyday, except Wednesday, October 17, when they will close for competition purposes. An overall winner is announced on Friday, October 19 at 2 p.m. See the schedule for more information here.

Good luck to all involved from Inhabitat- we look forward to see if anyone will be able to take the crown from the University of Colorado team, who has managed to win the last two decathlons.

+ Solar Decathlon

+ Energy geeks compete for coolest solar home
+ MIT’s solar house under construction @ Cnet
+ Santa Clara University team to compete in Solar Decathlon @


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  1. John Ireland June 1, 2008 at 11:48 am

    I just came across this web site recently and was very impressed with the Cornell solar model home. I’m looking forward to the next solar decathalon on the mall and plan to attend the event. Well done!

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  4. djfred October 11, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    I’m there. I’m still trying to decide whether it’s better to get there for the kick-off or after they announce the winners.

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  9. Christopher P. August 20, 2007 at 5:08 pm

    Great concepts, to be broadly integrated into housing. Stand-alone hi-tech homes are not capable of being made “affordable”, if the measure of affordability is the annual incomes of those who need housing most. It would be interesting if the schools were asked to do an integrated “neighborhood plan” to augment each other. This would be a model for more affordable “village” infrastructural re-development. Also, I am concerned that wind-power is not mentioned in the competition — wind is the biggest solar heat-engine of all, after deep ocean currents!

  10. Walt Barrett August 17, 2007 at 7:36 am

    These homes have to be made more affordable and much more attractive. Some of those roof mounts and designs will never survive even a small wind storm. We need better and more marketable designs and people have to be able to afford them.

  11. Ebonie August 16, 2007 at 4:11 pm

    Here is the Cornell runner-up team’s webstie:

    There design is awesome, and a greywater system can be integrated into it.

  12. Walt Barrett August 16, 2007 at 6:53 am

    The solar ideas are great, but the homes are not very attractive. It’s difficult to market a home whose appearance is off the norm. Also, we can’t lose sight of the affordability. The people that need homes the most these days have the least amount of money. We need more attractive, simple, low cost designs for solar homes.
    There is no need for them to look like ugly patchwork quilts.

  13. Will August 15, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    this is such a good idea. thanks for once, government of the united states

  14. Walt Barrett August 15, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Solar homes are great, but they need to be more attractive, and they have to be more affordable. These are the real challanges of solar home design.

  15. Sarah August 15, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    This looks great. I’m going to try and make it out for it in October.

  16. Happy Solar panel user Jim August 15, 2007 at 1:59 pm

    Todays Solar panels are highly efficient and do work the whole year around. Even at cloudy days ,the new solar sytems give us a huge amount of energy. The best thing you can do is, to talk to people who own Solar panels. Ask them how about the costs,energysavings,purposes. Solar panels simply are a great way to help you saving energy,without any bad polution. There are also a lot of good second hand used panels,less expensive…I also have 4 panels (16 years old) and i know they will contnue working for at least 16 more years.

  17. Walt Barrett August 15, 2007 at 6:06 am

    The ideas are great, but the biggest complaint I keep hearing is that most solar homes are not attractive looking. I think we need more traditional attractive designs. Some of the homes look like patchwork quilts.
    In order to be saleable a product must be attractive as well as functional. We have the same problem with some of the Hybrid cars. Where is it written that they have to be ugly?

  18. devo August 15, 2007 at 4:33 am

    i LOVE the runner-up house with all that vegetation. just blends in to environment. it would really be great if plants are fed with greywater from sinks, washer, etc. is that natural ventilation and light? would it work down here in texas? is this considered pre-fab? BEAUTIFUL!!!!!

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