Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon is a solar homes competition among college students. Each team designs and builds a full-size solar-powered house to compete in 10 contests.
The goal is to create the best combination of innovation, energy and water efficiency, design excellence, smart energy production, and market potential.
Solar Decathlon also offers homeowners and consumers an intensive learning experience on the latest technologies in solar power. The competition offers a sneak peek into the most modern clean energy technologies, smart home solutions, energy-efficient designs, water conservation measures, sustainable buildings, and electric vehicles.
College students who plan to work in the clean energy industry often join these competitions to have a hands-on experience and take advantage of advanced training.
Solar Decathlon competitions have been at the forefront of raising awareness about clean energy. The technologies and solutions featured year after year in Solar Decathlon homes have found their way into residential buildings around the world.
Since 2002, more than 160 collegiate teams have participated in the biennial Solar Decathlon. Its popularity has paved the way for five more competitions around the globe:
- Solar Decathlon Europe
- Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean
- Solar Decathlon Middle East
- Solar Decathlon Africa
- Solar Decathlon China
Who can join the Solar Decathlon?
Solar Decathlon competitions are open to teams of faculty and students from colleges and universities across the globe. After a team submits its conceptual designs, a panel of engineers, scientists, and building experts evaluate the proposal.
Building solar homes for competition
Most teams spend around two years designing and building their solar homes for the decathlon.
The house must be able to do the following:
- Maintain a certain temperature range
- Provide adequate lighting
- Provide water heating
- Provide space heating and cooling
- Operate essential appliances
Photovoltaic systems should generate electricity for the entire home.
The 10 contests for each decathlon include:
The Solar Decathlon competition is governed by rules and a building code. Juries are composed of individuals who are at the top of their respective fields of expertise. They bring professional excellence and practical in-the-field expertise in architecture, market potential, engineering, communication, innovation and water efficiency. When evaluating competition entries, jurors assign points that determine team score and overall standing in each contest.
The cost of building a solar home for competition may vary. For the Market Potential category, each team chooses a specific target market for their home design. In the Innovation contest, teams may look to out-of-the-box ideas rather than limit their resources to off-the-shelf materials. Evaluation criteria in both contests require teams to maintain cost effectiveness for the benefit of their target market.
Some of the solar homes are sold after the competition in order to help teams recover their expenses or raise money for the next decathlon. Most houses are on display at their respective universities for research and public viewing.