Lead-up to the Solar Decathlon, Part 1

by Matt Bushey, September 19, 2011

Posted by Matthew Bushey
This week marks the much-anticipated kickoff of the fifth U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon competition, held on the National Mall in Washington D.C.  The event pits 20 teams of college students against each other to see who can design, build and operate the most energy-efficient, comfortable, healthy, affordable and beautiful solar-powered home.
From Sept 23rd until Oct 2nd, 19 homes will be built on the Mall and opened to the public for tours (the University of Hawaii dropped out). These are real homes, typically 800 to 1,000 square feet, that draw all of their energy from the sun.


I attended the first Solar Decathlon in 2002, and went again to the second one in 2005, to see firsthand the innovative designs and new technologies that these kids had come up with. This year, I will be returning to D.C. once again to see the Solar Decathlon, with a renewed sense of urgency, interest, and excitement.
Three weeks ago, Vermont was rocked by massive floods that caused widespread damage and attracted national attention.  It seemed we had just recovered from the spring floods and were taken by surprise by Tropical Storm Irene.  Elsewhere in the country, droughts are lasting for months on end and wildfires are burning at an unprecedented rate.  They say this is the ‘new normal’.  Warmer oceans are feeding stronger hurricanes, and the changing climate is leading to destructive weather patterns that threaten all of us.  With each passing year it becomes more evident that we need to speed up our efforts to power our buildings from renewable energy sources that decrease our greenhouse gas emissions.
The Solar Decathlon is showing the way.  For a quick description of the event, check out this Welcome and Overview video by the DOE:

This year, a Vermont school is participating in the Solar Decathlon for the first time. Middlebury College is on the Mall right now, assembling their first Solar Decathlon house, a 2-bedroom, 1,000 square foot home they call “Self-Reliance”. Unlike many of their competitors, Middlebury College does not have an accredited architecture program. In fact, Middlebury is the first ever liberal arts college to enter the Solar Decathlon alone. Its team consists of over 85 students from a variety of disciplines, working on the design, construction, and communication of Self Reliance.I am really looking forward to seeing this house firsthand during the competition on the National Mall.  Check it out here: 
For more information on the Solar Decathlon, visit the official website at www.solardecathlon.gov. You can also follow the events on the solar decathlon facebook page, or on this here TruexCullins blog for more reports from a Vermonter’s perspective.

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