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    Solar Decathlon 2011

    by Christine MacDonald

    In the U.S. Department of Energy's recent Solar Decathlon, architecture and engineering students competed to build the most efficient, innovative, economical, and attractive home powered by the sun.

    This year's contest was the fifth since the decathlon was first launched in 2002, at a time when solar power was still a tiny, hothouse business. Since then, solar energy has taken off, growing into a multibillion-dollar industry, with more than 3,000 megawatts of installed solar power in the United States alone.

    While much of the installed capacity is fueling commercial buildings, solar homes have also edged toward the mainstream as builders like Arizona's Meritage Homes roll out entire net-zero-energy subdivisions at prices comparable to standard construction.

    During the 2011 decathlon, 19 teams, including four from foreign universities, spent a week in mid-September erecting their homes in the National Mall's West Potomac Park in Washington, D.C.

    In the days that followed, they competed for points in ten categories: architecture, market appeal, engineering, educational communications, affordability, "comfort zone" (indoor temperate and humidity), hot water systems, appliances, home entertainment, and energy balance.

    Some of the houses in this year's competition echoed market trends in at least a couple of ways: the cost of the homes and a holistic approach to green building.

    Nearly half — nine out of 19 houses — were estimated at less than $300,000 to build. This year's entries were about 33 percent less expensive than the 2009 solar homes, according to decathlon organizers.   >>>

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    The WaterShed house, a butterfly-roofed home designed by the University of Maryland team, is the winner of the U.S. Department of Energy's 2011 Solar Decathlon competition.
    Photo: Jim Tetro/ U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

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    The 2011 Solar Decathlon was held at West Potomac Park, adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
    Photo: Stefano Paltera/ U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon Extra Large Image

     

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