Every year, the U.S. Department of Energy holds its Solar Decathlon, a unique competition that asks students to create full-size, solar-powered homes. Let’s explore some of the features of the winning design and look how this competition has inspired industry developments.
What Is the Solar Decathlon?
Held by the U.S. Department of Energy, the annual Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition that includes ten contests. Each one challenges teams of students to design and build full-size solar houses. Winning teams must show a seamless blend of smart energy production and design excellence, while also demonstrating market potential and innovation, along with energy and water efficiency. This year’s Solar Decathlon occurred in October, and the winning design showcased some interesting facets that could potentially influence future home designs.
Choosing a Winner
To capture first prize at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, contestants participated in ten contests over a nine-day stretch. While doing so, students were asked to perform everyday tasks to measure livability and performance, including cooking, laundry and dish washing. Each design then received scores from one to 100, based on architecture, engineering, communication, market potential, innovation, water usage, appliances, home life, energy use and health and comfort.
After assessing the designs and performance of every house, judges were quick to name the Swiss team as winners of the Solar Decathlon, thanks mostly to high scores in architecture and water usage.
A Closer Look at the Winning Design
Comprised of students from a variety of several universities, the Swiss team earned a perfect score of 100 possible points in the architecture contest, thanks to unique elements that rethink the use of solar power in building design. Among these elements included an integrated wall design that combined windows, photovoltaics and solar thermal.
This Swiss team also won the decathlon water contest with a score of 95 points, thanks to a design that reduced water consumption through a green roof that integrated storm water. The Swiss house also boasted an innovative composting toilet, along with a gray-water system that successfully utilized water from the kitchen.
How the Decathlon Affects the Housing Market
While the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon provides powerful motivation to young designers, it has also become a big source of inspiration for builders. According to a recent report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the 18,000-plus students who have participated in all the U.S. Solar Decathlons appear to have strongly influenced the market adoption of innovative technologies in today’s homes. Among the most powerful concepts include the use of innovative materials and construction techniques, along with solar photovoltaic (PV) technologies, building-integrated vegetation and forward-thinking strategies that improve overall efficiency.
Combined with other similar assessments, this report should inspire builders to continuously monitor industry developments, so they can keep up with new technologies, stay ahead of market trends and meet the rising demand for energy-efficient living spaces.
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