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Solar Decathlon Opens, Chu Offers $87M for Solar Technologies

WASHINGTON, DC, October 8, 2009 – Twenty unique high-tech, solar-powered houses took center stage on the National Mall today at the opening of the U.S. Energy Department’s Solar Decathlon.

More than 800 students in 20 teams from the United States, Canada, Spain and Germany will compete all week in ten contests that evaluate the architecture, engineering, comfort, marketability, appliances and lighting of the solar houses. The teams will perform everyday tasks, such as cooking, laundry, and washing dishes, to test the energy efficiency of their homes.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu, center in suit, smiles for the camera with members of Team California in front of their solar house on the National Mall. (Photo courtesy DOE)

“More efficient buildings powered with renewable energy can and must play a major role in meeting the energy challenge, and these students will be at the forefront of that effort in the years ahead,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. “They represent the next generation of clean energy pioneers and entrepreneurs, and are a great example of what American innovation can accomplish.”

“If you’re wondering what a clean energy future looks like, I invite you to come see it for yourself on the National Mall,” the secretary said.

The solar houses will open to the public beginning on Friday, October 9. The overall winner will be announced on Friday, October 16, and the houses will be open for public tours through October 18.

At the opening festivities, Secretary Chu announced that the Obama administration will make up to $87 million available to support the development of new solar energy technologies and the rapid deployment of available carbon-free solar energy systems. Of this funding, $50 million comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“The projects will help accelerate the use of solar energy by residents, businesses and communities, and promote the long-term viability of solar energy by investing in the technologies of the future” said Chu. “I applaud each of these award winners who are vital to moving our country towards a sustainable solar infrastructure.”

The 47 projects with universities, electric power utilities, DOE’s national laboratories, and local governments have been selected to support use of solar technologies in U.S. cities, help address technical challenges, ensure reliable connectivity with the electrical grid, and train a new generation of solar workers to install and maintain solar energy systems.

Building efficiency is a major priority for the United States and the world, Chu says. Residential buildings account for about 20 percent of U.S. energy use. The issue has international dimensions, since China will build about as many square feet of building space in the next 15 years as exists in the entire United States today.

At the Solar Decathlon, the teams are being scored in 10 contests: Architecture, Market Viability, Engineering, Lighting Design, Communications, Comfort Zone, Hot Water, Appliances, Home Entertainment and Net Metering.

Team Spain’s solar house is covered with solar panels and features a roof-top pyramid that pivots to track the Sun. (Photo courtesy Team Spain)

Some new technologies have already emerged.

Team Spain has built a squat glass pyramid inverted base up that pivots to track the Sun. The solar-tracking top roof is first of its kind, and the university has filed for a patent on the ball-and-socket, central-pivot system that makes it possible.

Spain’s Housing Minister Beatriz Corredor Sierra attended the Solar Decathlon opening on the National Mall today to cheer on her country’s team and to promote the first Solar Decathlon Europe competition taking place in Madrid in June 2010 with university teams from Europe, America and Asia.

Cornell’s triple silo design also is expected to generate more power than it uses with a solar photovoltaic system, an integrated solar thermal system, which heats domestic water, and evacuated tube collectors that provide space and water heating.

Team Germany’s house is a two-story cube entirely covered with solar cells. A photovoltaic system made of 40 single-crystal silicon panels covers the roof and 250 thin-film copper indium gallium diselenide panels cover the sides. Together the solar panels are expected to produce 200 percent of the energy needed by the house.

Team Ontario/British Columbia, which calls itself Team North, set out to tailor its Solar Decathlon house to the Canadian climate. Highly insulated, quadruple-glazed, floor-to-ceiling windows and vertical photovoltaic panels on south, east, and west sides capture northern latitude winter sunlight.

The University of Arizona house features ventilated bifacial solar panels that allow electricity to be produced as light passes through from either direction to improve efficiency by up to 30 percent.

The Penn State University house features a green roof that uses plants to reduce heat on the roof. The integrated rooftop photovoltaic system uses a new type of cylindrical, thin-film material.

Iowa State’s Interlock House was designed and built by dozens of students from 11 departments of the university. The 800-square-foot solar-powered house is expected to produce more energy than it consumes. It is targeted for a retiree market and is ADA accessible.

The 2009 Solar Decathlon Teams are:

  • Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)
  • Iowa State University (Ames, Iowa)
  • Ohio State University (Columbus, Ohio)
  • Penn State University (University Park, Pennsylvania)
  • Rice University (Houston, Texas)
  • Team Boston (Boston Architectural College, Tufts University) (Boston, Massachusetts)
  • Team California (Santa Clara University, California College of the Arts) (Santa Clara, California)
  • Technische Universität Darmstadt (Winner, 2007 Solar Decathlon) (Darmstadt, Germany)
  • Team Missouri (Missouri University of Science & Technology, University of Missouri) (Rolla, Missouri)
  • Team Ontario/British Columbia (University of Waterloo, Ryerson University, Simon Fraser University) (Ontario, Canada)
  • Team Alberta (University of Calgary, SAIT Polytechnic, Alberta College of Art + Design, Mount Royal College) (Alberta, Canada)
  • Universidad de Puerto Rico (San Juan, Puerto Rico)
  • Universidad PolitĂ©cnica de Madrid (Madrid, Spain)
  • University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona)
  • University of Louisiana at Lafayette (Lafayette, Louisiana)
  • University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
  • University of Minnesota (Minneapolis, Minnesota)
  • University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (Champaign, Illinois)
  • University of Kentucky (Lexington, Kentucky)
  • Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia)

This is the fourth Solar Decathlon held since the competition started in 2002. This year’s teams were chosen two years ago through a competitive process. Since then, teams have designed and built the homes, furnished, outfitted, decorated, and optimized the homes’ performance.

Follow the solar decathletes via scoring that is updated every 15 minutes and see design and construction details online at: http://www.solardecathlon.org/

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