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20 Universities to Compete in DoE-sponsored Solar Decathlon to Build Most Efficient Solar-Powered Home

Department of Energy has announced the 20 teams from as many universities which will compete in the Solar Decathlon to design, build and operate the most affordable and energy-efficient solar-powered home. The event will be held at the National Mall in Washington D.C. in the Fall 2011.


The DoE intends to a) educate students and public about the various energy-efficient technologies having application in home designing, b) introduce to the public the advantages of energy-efficient homes and use of renewable energy and c) train the students in energy efficiency technologies. The teams will be evaluated on their performance through a series of contests involving various aspects of designing, building and operating a solar-powered home. The students will be evaluated on parameters such as architectural, economical and engineering aspects.

Universities selected for the 2011 Decathlon include Ghent University (Belgium), Purdue University (Indiana), Tonji University (Shanghai), University of Calgary (Canada) and Victoria University of Wellington (New Zealand).

The jury for evaluation will comprise of engineers, scientists and experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory. The teams will be required to complete household such as cooking, washing dishes and doing laundry and the teams must also maintain the indoor temperature within a narrow range 0f 71°F (22.2°C) and 76°F (24.4°C).

The technologies used in the home must also be affordable and the teams will lose points if the construction cost exceeds a certain limit. The teams must also ensure that 15 gallons of hot water (110°F) is delivered in ten minutes or less. The efficiency of the air-conditioning systems will also be monitored. Finally, the teams will be evaluated on the basis of net energy used in various processes with the desired result of zero energy use.

A look at Virginia Tech’s ‘Lumen Haus’ from Decathlon 2009


Energy Efficiency Essential for Green Development

Such events involving students could very well be the building blocks of a green economy and green society. Not only the students get familiar with the advantages and importance of energy efficiency but the visitors also get to know about the available technologies and how they can integrate them into their own homes.

Energy efficiency is the first step towards sustainable growth of the economy. Before we move to renewable energy sources we must learn to value the resources in hand. Simple steps towards reducing our energy use can make significant difference in the way we use the depleting resources. Minor changes in our homes and industries can not only save millons of dollars in utility bills but can also save millions of tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions from being released in the atmosphere.

Some of the simplest and easiest measures we can take are:

Use of double-glazed windows which transmit only the visible portion of the sunlight while blocking the infrared portion thus reducing the need of lighting during the day. Buildings should be built south-facing (north-facing in the southern hemisphere) in order to use the sunlight for lighting and heating purposes. Shading the windows to receive sunlight during the winter while it is blocked during the summer. Solar water heaters should be used. Energy-efficient light bulbs should be used. Maintaing the operating temperature of the air-conditioner to an optimum level for efficient cooling.  If possible the air-conditioning system should be powered (even if partially) by solar-based technologies.

Taking action towards energy efficiency is much more hassle-free than the implementing an all-out renewable energy policy. The initial push for energy efficiency can be achieved merely by educating the consumer and providing them information about their energy use. That is what a consortium of 48 companies have requested the President to do — provide the consumers with their energy usage data because significant savings can be achieved through behavioral changes.

Providing information to the consumers would not only bring about behavioral changes in their energy use but it could also, possibly, make them value the dwindling resources. As we have been witnessing for the last many months, building consensus on broad-range policy matters like large-scale deployment of renewable energy technologies is plagued by politics; therefore it is necessary that we continue to make progress even in the smallest of ways in order to reduce our carbon footprint and make use of the resources in the most efficient manner possible.

Image Credit: krossbow at Flickr (Creative Commons); Video Credit:

The views presented in the above article are author’s personal views and do not represent those of TERI/TERI University where the author is currently pursuing a Master’s degree.

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Written By

Mridul currently works as Head-News & Data at Climate Connect Limited, a market research and analytics firm in the renewable energy and carbon markets domain. He earned his Master’s in Technology degree from The Energy & Resources Institute in Renewable Energy Engineering and Management. He also has a bachelor’s degree in Environmental Engineering. Mridul has a keen interest in renewable energy sector in India and emerging carbon markets like China and Australia.


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