This week marks the kick-off of the U.S. Department of Energy’s fifth Solar Decathlon challenge. The competition, meant to inspire college students to participate in the emerging clean energy economy, will bring twenty collegiate teams to Washington DC to display their innovative solar designs after two years of planning and design. The goal is for these solar-powered homes to be energy efficient, aesthetically appealing, and affordable.

Students from Middlebury College install solar panels from SunPower for the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

Students from Middlebury College install solar panels from SunPower for the 2011 Solar Decathlon.

Collegiate teams will travel from across the world to compete in this year’s challenge, with teams ranging from China to Florida, Belgium to Massachusetts. Though the decathlon teaches engineering, architectural, and design skills, students come from interdisciplinary academic backgrounds. Team Middlebury from Vermont is comprised of over 85 students from more than 25 different academic disciplines. The Middlebury team, or “Self-Reliance,” built their New England farmhouse from local materials with low life-cycle costs such as sustainably forested timber and Vermont slate. Solar design features include passive heating and cooling and a solar array consisting of two hot water collectors and 30 solar panels that will produce 7930 Kwh of energy annually.

Teams will be judged on affordability, architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, comfort, and more. Team Massachusetts hopes that their 28-panel photovoltaic array of monocrystalline silicon cells will lead them to victory, while Hawaii’s wave-shaped design is sure to earn them creativity points with the judges.

These innovative solar designs will be displayed in West Potomac Park in Washington DC from September 23rd to October 2nd.  The event is open to the public free of charge. Visitors are encouraged to tour the houses to learn more about how they can incorporate these innovative solar ideas and energy efficiency practices to save money on their utility bills.

Sol Systems would like to wish all the collegiate teams the best of luck in the competition. With the global solar market projected to increase by 130% by 2020, we look forward to seeing your new skills put to use in the emerging clean energy economy.