Site Selection magazine
twitter linkedIn facebook email email email
From Site Selection magazine, October 2013

Going the Distance

The DOE’s Solar Decathlon was alive and kicking in Southern California.

The Solar Decathlon 2013 teams join together for a group photo ahead of the start of competition at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif., on October 3, 2013
Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon


pparently, even with the government’s shades drawn, the sun still rises.

“Despite the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 competition will continue as planned.”

So read an Oct. 1 press release from the event, which took place Oct. 3-13 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. As the DOE explained, “the Solar Decathlon is funded by a mix of last year's federal funding and at least 30 private-sector sponsors. Student teams from across the country and around the world have worked for two years to design and build their solar-powered, energy-efficient houses and have been working on-site for the past week to prepare for this highly-anticipated event. Federal employee participation is limited to personnel necessary to allow the show to proceed.”

And proceed it did, with 20 teams representing 29 universities and colleges from 14 states and three foreign countries. The event challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. The 20 teams worked their way through the following 10 competitions:

On Friday, after six of 10 competitions that comprise the biennial decathlon, Stanford University had inched ahead of the University of Nevada Las Vegas and Team Ontario, with judging still to come in the categories of architecture, engineering, communications and energy balance.

That was when European ingenuity (and the packaging of same) came to the fore: Team Austria, from the Vienna University of Technology, took home the gold medal yesterday, followed by UNLV in second and the Czech Republic in third. The University of North Carolina at Charlotte took home the people's choice award, while category winners included Team Ontario for Engineering. Team Austria grabbed first place in Communications, Hot Water and Energy Balance.

In the category of affordability three teams tied for first place by earning the full 100 points for achieving a target construction cost of $250,000 or less. The winners are: Vermont’s Norwich University ($168,385), Stanford University ($234,092), and Kentucky/Indiana from University of Louisville, Ball State University, and University of Kentucky ($248,423).

Team Ontario from Queen’s University, Carleton University, and Algonquin College took second place ($257,584), and Middlebury College (another Vermont entry) won third ($263,083).


Philipp Klebert, center, celebrates after learning Team Austria placed first in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. on October 12.
Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

In the Market Appeal Contest, the University of Nevada Las Vegas took home first place for its house, DesertSol, which is designed as a luxurious desert vacation retreat for a middle-aged, middle-to-upper-income, active couple.

“The Market Appeal jurors loved the design of this house. The look, the feel, the energy blew us away,” said Susan Aiello, founder and president of Interior Design Solutions and U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 Market Appeal juror. “Of all the houses we saw, we thought that DesertSol best met the needs and desires of its target market. I’d buy it!”

Let’s Meet the Contestants


The house built by students from Vermont’s Norwich University hangs towels out to dry as part of the Appliances Contest on Oct. 7, which is designed to mimic the appliance use of an average U.S. home. Teams earn points for refrigerating and freezing food, washing and drying laundry, and running the dishwasher.
Photo by Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002; the competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009, and 2011. This year’s is the first held outside Washington, D.C.

Since its launch 11 years ago, the event has involved 112 collegiate teams and, says the DOE, “affected the lives of nearly 17,000 collegiate participants.”

It’s also expanded to currently include 65 participating teams and nearly 10,000 students in three competitions around the world, including Solar Decathlon Europe 2012 and Solar Decathlon China 2013.

Here are the teams who competed last week in sunny Southern California. The links take you to in-depth explorations of each team’s designs, concepts and practices:

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 uses a small power grid, or microgrid, to distribute energy safely and reliably among the competition houses and to the utility grid. By the end of the competition, the houses collectively had produced 6,208 kilowatt-hours (kWh) since the competition began on Oct. 3, and the village had used only 4,159 kWh.

The data says the clean energy produced offset the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide generated by driving a vehicle in California for 3,684 miles. However, the data do not take into account the miles traveled by the teams to reach the competition site.


Visitors tour the deck outside the Czech Republic house.
Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Occuring at the same time as the Solar Decathlon was XPO — a world’s fair of clean, renewable and efficient energy.

“Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO at the Great Park serves as a catalyst for education for the Orange County community,” said Al Mijares, Ph.D., Orange County Superintendent of Schools. “The Solar Decathlon will serve as a learning laboratory for students from our local school districts, providing them the inspiration to become the next generation of clean energy engineers, architects, builders and creative thinkers.”

Still Fundraising

The team from Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture provides one snapshot into the comprehensive effort and learning that goes into the event. According to an account by Caltech’s Jessica Stoller-Conrad, their entry this year (14th place) was called the Dynamic Augmented Living Environment (DALE), and has involved nearly 40 Caltech students in the design process. Nearly all of them took a course in multidisciplinary systems engineering, and seven stayed on campus through the summer to actually build the house.


Janet Conroy, of Team Capitol DC, waters the vegetation outside their entry. The water used was reclaimed from the Hot Water Contest draw completed earlier in the day.
Photo by Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy

Then, unlike some of their competitors, they only took about three and a half hours to get their house to the competition site in Irvine.

“DALE's design consists of two configurable, box-like modules — one kitchen and bathroom module, and one living and sleeping space module — that can move together or apart,” explains Stoller-Conrad. “When in the open configuration, DALE's design exploits the ambient outdoor temperature to heat or cool the house, helping to maintain a comfortable temperature within the house without using extra energy for heating and air-conditioning.”

The team also designed an energy-saving mobile app for DALE that would allow its owner to monitor the home's real-time energy supply and consumption and take steps to use less energy. "As a team, we are aiming to create a house that is not only energy efficient by itself, but also encourages the inhabitants to live a greener lifestyle," Caltech electrical engineering student Do Hee Kim says on the DALE website. "We have made it simple for homeowners to execute these actions by having the ability to remotely turn on and off home appliances," Kim says.

And, the release relates, for any house hunters visiting the competition, DALE is for sale and can be delivered to a new owner.

“Although the Department of Energy provides a limited amount of seed money for Solar Decathlon teams, fundraising is necessary to cover the actual costs of production,” they remind visitors. “Funds from the sale of the home will go to recoup some this year's competition costs and could also help support an entry bid for the 2015 Solar Decathlon.”

Christian Iusso of the University of Nevada at Las Vegas prepares a meal for student dinner guests during the Dinner Party portion of the Decathlon’s Home Entertainment contest Oct. 5. The UNLV entry won first place later in the week in the Market Appeal contest.
Photo by Eric Grigorian/U.S. Department of Energy

Related Articles

Subscribe to Site Selection

Most Popular Articles

Site Selection online is a worldwide service of Conway Data, Inc. ©1983-2024, all rights reserved. Data is from many sources and not warranted to be accurate or current. To unsubscribe from our print magazine, contact Julie Clarke. For general inquiries, visit our contact page. For technical inquiries contact the Webmaster.