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.

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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 @