Solar Decathlon

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The Solar Decathlon showcases student-built houses powered exclusively by the sun. Credit: Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is an international competition that challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production.

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 was held at the National Mall’s West Potomac Park on the peninsula just south of the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Memorial between the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Potomac River. Credit: Erica Augustine/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002. The competition has since occurred biennially in 2005, 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013.[1] Open to the public and free of charge, the Solar Decathlon allows visitors to tour ultra-efficient houses, gather ideas to use in their own homes, and learn how energy-saving features can help reduce power bills.

The competition is presented by the U.S. Department of Energy and organized by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). There is also a Solar Decathlon Europe, which was established by a 2007 agreement between the United States and Spain.[2] Solar Decathlon China was established with the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Department of Energy, China’s National Energy Administration, Peking University, and Applied Materials on January 20, 2011.[3] The first Solar Decathlon China will be held in 2013.[4]


The inaugural competition was open to the public Sept. 19–Oct. 6, 2002. Fourteen teams from across the United States, including Puerto Rico, competed in the first-ever Solar Decathlon on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. At the end of the event, the University of Colorado was awarded first place overall.

The second Solar Decathlon was held on the National Mall on Oct. 6–16, 2005. Eighteen teams from the United States, Canada, and Spain designed and built solar-powered houses for the competition. The University of Colorado successfully defended its championship.

The third Solar Decathlon took place on the National Mall on Oct. 12–20, 2007. Twenty teams from the United States, Canada, Spain, and Germany competed in the third Solar Decathlon. The Technische Universität Darmstadt (Team Germany) rose to the top of this competitive field to become the overall champion.

The fourth Solar Decathlon was held on the National Mall Oct. 8–18, 2009. Twenty teams from colleges and universities in the United States, Canada, Germany, and Spain competed in 2009. Team Germany once again was named the overall winner.

The fifth Solar Decathlon took place Sept. 23–Oct. 2, 2011, with nineteen teams representing the United States, China, New Zealand, Belgium, and Canada. The event was held in Washington, D.C.'s West Potomac Park, near the Potomac River, the Tidal Basin and the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, along a road between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials.[5] The University of Maryland was the overall competition winner.[6]

The sixth Solar Decathlon took place Oct. 3-13, 2013, in Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California.[7]


In 2010 the Solar Decathlon was awarded the Honor Award from the National Building Museum for its emphasis on "renewable energy, energy-efficient, and environmentally responsible systems" and its role in educating a new generation of built environment professionals.[8]

Scope of Contests[edit]

The Solar Decathlon organizers selected the following ten contests for the 2011 competition. Each contest is worth a maximum of 100 points, for a possible total of 1,000 points. Teams earn points through task completion, performance monitoring, and jury evaluation.

Contest 1: Architecture[edit]

Teams are required to design and build attractive, high-performance houses that integrate solar and energy-efficiency technology seamlessly into the design. A jury of professional architects evaluates team construction documents and the final constructed house. They evaluate three main factors: architectural elements, holistic design, and inspiration.

Contest 2: Market Appeal[edit]

For the Market Appeal Contest, teams build their houses for a target market of their choosing. Teams are then asked to demonstrate the potential of their houses to keep costs affordable within that market. A jury of professionals from the homebuilding industry evaluates how well suited each house is for everyday living; determines whether the construction documents would enable a contractor to construct the house as intended, and assesses whether the house offers potential homebuyers within the target market a good value.

Contest 3: Engineering[edit]

Solar Decathlon houses are marvels of modern engineering, and this contest “checks under the hood.” A jury of professional engineers evaluates each house for functionality, efficiency, innovation, and reliability.

Contest 4: Communications[edit]

The Solar Decathlon challenges teams to communicate about the technical aspects of their houses, as well as their experiences, to a wide audience through Web sites and exhibits of their houses on the National Mall. The Communications Contest awards points to teams based on their success in delivering clear and consistent messages and images that represent the vision, process, and results of each team’s project. A jury of Web site development and public relations experts will evaluate the team Web sites, communications plans, and student-led house tours for effectiveness.

Contest 5: Affordability[edit]

New for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011, the Affordability Contest encourages teams to design and build affordable houses that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems. A professional estimator will determine the construction cost of each house. Teams can earn the maximum possible 100 points for achieving a target construction cost of $250,000 or less. A sliding point scale will be applied to houses with estimated construction costs between $250,001 and $600,000. Houses with estimated costs that are more than $600,000 will receive zero points.

Contest 6: Comfort Zone[edit]

Teams competing in the Solar Decathlon design their houses to maintain steady, uniform indoor environmental conditions. During the competition, full points are awarded for maintaining narrow temperature and relative humidity ranges inside the houses.

Contest 7: Hot water[edit]

This contest demonstrates that a solar-powered house can provide all of the energy necessary to heat water for domestic uses. Teams score points in this contest by successfully completing several daily hot water draws.

Contest 8: Appliances[edit]

The Appliances Contest is designed to mimic the appliance use and amenity in the average U.S. home while using less energy. Points are earned for refrigerating and freezing food, washing and drying laundry, and running the dishwasher.

Contest 9: Home Entertainment[edit]

The Home Entertainment Contest is designed to demonstrate that houses powered solely by the sun can deliver more than just basic household functionality. They can also provide a comfortable setting with power for the electronics, appliances, and modern conveniences that we love. The Home Entertainment Contest gauges whether the house has what it takes to be a home. Can it accommodate the pleasures of living, such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching television, or surfing the Web?

Contest 10: Energy Balance[edit]

This contest demonstrates that the sun can supply the energy necessary for all the daily energy demands of a small household. For the contest, each house is equipped with Net metering, a utility meter that measures the energy a house produces and consumes over the course of the competition. A team receives full points for producing at least as much energy as its house needs.



AIR House of Czech Technical University team. in 2014 rebuilt in Prague as the Information Centre of the CTU

Teams selected for the Solar Decathlon 2013 competition, the first one to be held outside Washington, DC,[9] were:[10]


Teams selected for the Solar Decathlon 2011 competition were:


The competing teams in Solar Decathlon 2009 were:[31][32]


Georgia Tech's entry to Solar Decathlon 2007, located on Tech campus.

The 20 competing teams in Solar Decathlon 2007 were:


The 18 competing universities in Solar Decathlon 2005 were:


The 14 competing teams in Solar Decathlon 2002 were:

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Solar Decathlon History page
  2. ^ Solar Decathlon Europe
  3. ^ Solar Decathlon China Announcement
  4. ^ Solar Decathlon China website
  5. ^ (1) "Energy, Interior Departments Announce New Location for Solar Decathlon 2011". Solar Decathlon News Blog. United States Department of Energy. 2011-02-23. Retrieved 2011-02-28. 
    (2) "Map: U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011: National Mall West Potomac Park". U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. 2011-02-23. Archived from the original on 2011-03-04. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
    (3) Fears, Darryl (2011-02-23). "Solar Decathlon houses now have a home on the Mall". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2011-02-27. 
  6. ^ "University of Maryland Wins Solar Decathlon 2011!". 2011-10-01. Retrieved 2011-10-05. 
  7. ^ "About Solar Decathlon". U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. National Renewable Energy Laboratory. Archived from the original on 2013-01-27. Retrieved 2013-01-27. 
  8. ^ "2010 Honor Award: A Salute to Civic Innovators". 
  9. ^ "Solar Decathlon 2013: New Teams! New Location!". press release. U.S. Department of Energy. 2012-01-26. 
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  31. ^ "Energy Department Selects Student Teams to Compete in 2009 Solar Decathlon". press release. U.S. Department of Energy. 2008-01-24. 
  32. ^ "2009 Solar Decathlon contact list". 

External links[edit]