This post was written by GoingGreenDC contributing writer Alison Drucker.
For a couple weeks in October, your regular jog around the Mall will look a little different. That’s when the Solar Decathlon comes to town, and 20 cutting-edge solar-powered homes descend on the Mall.
An educational project from the Department of Energy and its National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the Solar Decathlon is a competition among university teams from around the world to create the most efficient, attractive, and entirely solar-powered home. The teams spend almost two years designing and building their homes elsewhere, and transport them to the Mall to be rebuilt; the public is then invited to come tour, observe, and learn.
The challenge for participants is to create an efficient solar home that could actually serve the needs of a typical family, with all the modern conveniences, while being aesthetically striking. There are certain restrictions in place, such as a specified temperature range the homes have to maintain and types of equipment they have to power. Experts from DOE and NREL judge entrants in 10 categories, from architecture to market viability to home entertainment.
The homes generate energy with building-integrated (incorporated during construction) photovoltaic systems to produce electricity, and with solar thermal systems for space heating/cooling and water heating. The goal is a net-zero energy home that produces as much energy from renewable sources as it consumes. Teams come from as far as Germany and Spain, and as near as Virginia Tech and Penn State, to compete.
The competition equips the student participants – future engineers, architects, builders, business owners, policy-makers – with the skills to make renewable energy, energy efficiency, and green building technologies part of their careers. It also teaches the rest of us about one of the world’s greatest challenges – our constantly increasing demand for energy and the need for sustainable solutions.
It’s well worth fighting the crowds to take a peek at the houses, with participating teams on hand to give insightful tours and explanations. The homes are open to visitors October 9-13 and October 15-18, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays. You can also attend presentations in the temporary educational village (whose technology is powered by solar electric systems, naturally).