By Patricia Daukantas
Will tomorrow (Friday, October 9) be a sunny day? Twenty teams of university students are hoping for clear skies in Washington, D.C., for the start of the U.S. Department of Energy’s fourth Solar Decathlon.
The National Mall – the grassy rectangular park that stretches westward from the U.S. Capitol – is probably a hive of activity of today as the teams prepare their solar-powered houses for the start of the competition. From tomorrow until October 18, they’ll be living entirely “off the grid” in terms of electrical power – all in view of the public (except for one day devoted to judging).
As I wrote in the OPN blog two years ago, the last time a Solar Decathlon was held:
The Solar Decathlon gets its name from the 10 separate categories in which entries are judged…. As in the Olympic track-and-field decathlon, each contest nets the competitor a certain number of points, but there can be only one victor.
The categories reflect the notion that, to be successful, a solar-powered house must actually be comfortable to live in. It can’t be too hot or too cold, it must provide enough hot water for the dishwasher and the showers, and it should look reasonably attractive.
For 2009, the teams are competing in slightly different categories from 2007. Five contests have objective (quantitative) scoring and the other five are more subjective (judged by juries). In the new “home entertainment” competition, students must host two dinner parties, illuminate the house’s interior and run electronic devices for specified times, host a “movie night” and boil water in the kitchen.
This year’s decathlon features teams from Cornell, Iowa State, Pennsylvania State, Rice, Ohio State, Arizona, Illinois (Urbana-Champaign), Kentucky, Louisiana (Lafayette), Minnesota, Wisconsin (Milwaukee) and Virginia Tech universities (all U.S.A.); Universidad de Puerto Rico (a U.S. territory); Team Spain, from the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid; Team Germany, from the Technische Universität Darmstadt; and multi-university collaborations from Boston, California and Missouri in the United States and Alberta and Ontario/British Columbia in Canada.
Among the past competitors missing from the 2009 lineup are the University of Colorado, which won the 2005 decathlon, and the University of Maryland, 2007’s second-place finisher.
Taking these solar houses from concepts to finished residences is a long, expensive project. Each team received $100,000 in seed money. The Energy Department is already soliciting proposals for the October 2011 competition; undoubtedly, work will begin on those houses the moment this decathlon is over.
If you can’t get to Washington, D.C. (because you’re attending FiO, for instance), you can follow all the action on the media-rich home page, which includes a slide show of photos, links to YouTube videos and an RSS feed of the teams’ blog posts. And if you happen to be in Spain next June, check out the first-ever “SD Europe” solar decathlon in Madrid.