2 Oct 2011

Solar-powered, net-zero energy homes demonstrate mainstream appeal at U.S. Solar Decathlon

Written by Jim Pierobon

Led by the University of Maryland and Purdue University, the 2011 version of the U.S. Solar Decathlon demonstrated how high-tech energy and common sense are going mainstream, all while zeroing out electricity consumption from the grid. Every step of the way participating students — and perhaps elected officials — garnered valuable lessons for the U.S. economy, their careers and homeowners around the world.

The University of Maryland at College Park earned top overall honors at the 2011 U.S. Solar Decathlon along with 1st-place ties in the solar hot water and energy balance categories; 2nd-place finishes for market appeal and appliances; 3rd-place for communications; 3rd-place tie for entertainment features; 4th-place for engineering; and 12th-place for affordability. Credit: Jim Pierobon / The Energy Fix

Beyond the headlines and bragging rights that come with finishing high in the overall ranking, the 10 technical categories and the “Peoples Choice Award,” here are a few of the applications developed by the university teams themselves you might not have thought of:

University of Maryland’s liquid desiccant waterfall: this indoor water feature can provide high-efficiency indoor humidity control. Go here for the a team member Brennan Clark’s own description.

And go here for a summary of how the University of Maryland approached the design and engineering of its “WaterShed” entry to help meet the challenges of sustaining the Chesapeake Bay, the largest freshwater estuary in the United States. And go here for an in-depth graphic of the WaterShed house published in The Washington Post.

Purdue University’s biowall: this is a “natural” filtration system for purifying air indoors. It relies on a wall of vertically placed plants to remove harmful volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde and benzen. Read more about Purdue’s entry, which resembled a ‘traditonal’ home in many respects and finished 2nd overall, here.

Middlebury College’s green wall: A green wall in the kitchen and outdoor planters that provide space for growing fresh produce year-round. Middlebury’s entry won accolades from several sustainability-minded Decathlon attendees on Sunday. It’s no wonder. The College earned first-place category finishes for market appeal, home entertainment and communications and finished in 4th place overall.

See how each team, including those from Belgium, China and New Zealand, finished in the 10 categories here.

The students’ perspectives are what make these Solar Decathlons the most inspiring for attendees who want to believe there are more sustainable AND affordable ways to build small single-family residences. Even larger homesteads can draw myriad lessons from what was demonstrated in at this year’s Solar Decathlon in Washington, DC which ran from September 23 through October 2.

Watch for what students from these university teams considered the most rewarding experiences from their involvement in the 2011 Decathlon, most of which spanned almost two years of preparation. That time span includes the next four days, during which they must disassemble their entries and ship them back ‘home.’

From Ohio State University.    From Middlebury College.     From Purdue University.     From Appalachian State University.

The next Solar Decathlon is to take place in Europe in the spring or summer of 2012. Read about the 2012 competing teams here.

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