The Solar Homes of Tomorrow

The Solar Homes of Tomorrow

It’s a great week for the solar power industry in Washington, D.C. thanks to 20 teams of university students competing in the 2009 Solar Decathlon. Each team has entered a solar powered home in the contest and over the next two weeks will have to surmount a number of obstacles and compete in a variety of events to try to win the number one spot, but every one of them is a unique opportunity to educate the public about the possibilities of solar power.

On the Mall this week the excitement (and some mild panic) is visible and audible as the teams put the finishing touches on their houses. They must be done by Wednesday in time for the Opening Ceremony on Thursday the 8th. Oh to be young again, there is a clear look of post all-nighter, and a few still in the middle of an all nighter to many of them and the hotel hallways are full of empty pizza boxes in the morning.

Allison Kopf of the Santa Clara house confirmed that they were running on carbs and sugar but also noted with pride that they were the first to tie into the grid. You can watch the progress on the mall with time-lapse.

Beyond solar there is some fascinating technology on display in these houses, LED lighting, innovative building materials, control systems, low energy bulbs and appliances and more. Walking around you get the sense that American’s could learn a lot from these houses. First of all the small but well utilized approximately 800 square foot size, when optimized by architects and engineers shows you how much we waste in most homes. Several of the homes have added large decks that in California would be perfect for entertaining and extra living space. This year the architecture is quite varied with two story entries, single stories and one house with an all glass facade. Each is self-contained, and can work on or off the grid, though part of this year’s contest is to feed power into the grid.

The students have been working late into the night, using power tools of all types and some of the houses still have a long way to go, but all the students I talked to are confident they’ll be ready.

I’m looking forward to the rest of the week and finding out who the winners are, but if we can get our Congressional leaders and hopefully the President to walk over and check this thing out, as well as many more people we’re all going to be winners.

Congratulations to all the contestants who have made it this far, and thank you for creating these living demonstrations of how technology really can make the difference for energy and the environment. Congratulations also to the Department of Energy for this great example of how the government can work with Universities to promote technology education in a roll up your sleeves, get it done sort of way. It is exactly this mentality we need to create the green economy here in the United States.

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