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Going Green: Solar Decathlon

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Hello, everyone. I’m VOA’s Rebecca Ward for “Going Green.” American football is probably the most closely watched college competition in the United States. But here on the National Mall in Washington, university students from around the world are competing for top scores in architecture.

“We’re focused on this house and we are really excited about it with our solar panels and our solar hot water heater.”

“We are trying to do movable roof that (caught) the sun.”

“The first thing you will mention is a façade that is 100% photovoltaics.”

The challenge – to build high-tech homes that save money and energy without sacrificing comfort. The competition – twenty university teams from around the world vying to win the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon.

“The teams will be judged on, certainly, how much energy they produce from the solar panels as well as how much – how little energy they use.”

The houses are judged on ten main points and awards are given for each one, including architecture, engineering, and market viability.

“These houses really have to be something that consumers want to buy, so it’s not just that the teams have to build something that’s technologically advanced and most energy efficient. It really has to be something that when a consumer looks at it, they think, ‘Yeah. I could live in that house.’ “

“For this particular room, what a lot of people seem to like is the fact that because this retracts all the way into the wall here, it really opens up the room to having this private outdoor deck space.”

The most points in this architecture Olympiad are awarded for net metering. Each seventy-five square meter home generates enough energy to meet the needs of a typical family using only the sun.

“So right now, during a nice bright sunny day like this, we’re actually producing electricity for DC (Washington DC) because we’re connected to a microgrid here on the Mall. All these houses are.”

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002 with the purpose of promoting renewable energy as well as preparing students for careers in the green jobs sector. Despite its short history, the Solar Decathlon has quickly gained prestige among architectural and engineering schools.

“Any team that wins this gets bragging rights that they’re one of the best architecture and engineering schools in the world.”

All of the houses were at least partially assembled in their home countries or states, then built here on the National Mall in a matter of days. Most teams began planning their building months, if not years, in advance of the competition.

“The Decathlon occurs every two years. We actually didn’t compete in 2007, so that’s when we started our designs. We started while the previous Decathlon was occurring.”

I’d like to say that everyone’s a winner here, and in a sense, they are. Out of forty applications, only twenty were chosen to compete in the 2009 Solar Decathlon. Each of the twenty teams gets a $100,000 grant from the Department of Energy. But the finalist team, Germany, gained the most points overall, becoming this year’s champion.

“The most important thing or the best thing, in my opinion,was to have the chance to be involved in something that becomes reality. We learn to work conceptual and always more graphical, but you’re not so much into real details.”

Those teams left in the dust, no regrets.

“We’ll be taking it back to the university. It will be placed there and we will be doing more research and we will try to learn from the mistakes and to improve.