Happening This Month: The 2011 Solar Decathlon

Students are once again vying to design and build the most cost-effective, energy-efficient and prettiest solar-powered home.

Two must-sees in Washington, DC this fall: one, the newly unveiled (though not officially dedicated due to hurricane upset) monument to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., designed by Chinese sculptor Master Lei Yixin. The other, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon installation on the National Mall, from September 23-October 2, 2011.

The Decathlon is an award-winning collaborative program that engages teams from colleges across the world to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and pretty. The winner is the team that does it best, mindfully creating according to affordability, consumer appeal, and design excellence. It’s a free biennial event totally open to the public, who get to tour homes fathomed in nearby Maryland and as far imagined as New Zealand.

The purpose of the event is to educate student participants and the public at large about using clean-energy, the cost-effectiveness of energy-efficient construction and appliances, and providing students with training for the clean-energy workforce. Since 2002, the first year of the event, 72 houses have competed. Those houses are now dotted throughout the United States and the world serving educational, conservation, and community-oriented functions.

This year, nineteen teams are competing from the United States, Belgium, Canada, China and New Zealand. Here are a few we’re keeping our eye on.

From Middlebury College, “Self-Reliance.” A two-bedroom, 990-ft2 house designed for a family of four.

“First Light,” from Victoria University of Wellington, inspired by the traditional New Zealand holiday home—the “Kiwi bach.”

From the University of Maryland “WaterShed” proposes solutions to water and energy shortages.

CHIP from SCI-Arc is a design motivated by California’s “soaring land costs and urban sprawl.” It’s meant to be a minimal-footprint, affordable dwelling that offers a solution to the challenges of home ownership.

Out of Belgium, Ghent University’s E-Cube aims for simplicity stripped of nonessential components and finishes.

Visit Solar Decathlon for a full list of the participating teams, and tell us…what’s your favorite?

K. Emily Bond

K. Emily Bond is the Shelter Editor at EcoSalon and currently resides in southern Spain, reporting on trends in art, design, sustainable living and lifestyle.