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Solar Sunrise

American college students once more have shown what the sun-powered housing the the future could look like. 2013's Solar Decathlon demonstrates that the U.S. could lead the way in sustainable living. All it takes is thinking differently about how housing should look and function.

By Chandra Slaven

THIS YEAR'S SOLAR DECATHLON SHOWED NOT ONLY THAT STUDENTS BUT PANEL AND EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS NOW HAVE THE STREET CRED to make a case for widescale conversion to solar power.

Showcasing the “best and brightest” in the design and production of solar-powered houses that are highly energy efficient, attractive and affordable, the Solar Decathlon’s 20 unique projects built by collegiate student teams from around the world was on display October 3–13, at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.    

Held for the first time outside of Washington, D.C., the sixth biennial Solar Decathlon was the solar energy and building industries’ equivalent to the Consumer Electronics Show. The Solar Decathlon challenges elite collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost effective, energy efficient, comfortable and attractive. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production, renewable energy and maximum efficiency.

The genius of the Solar Decathlon is that it not only inspires, but demands that competitors create unique homes that are aesthetically pleasing, technologically advanced and highly energy efficient. “I wanted to recruit the best and the brightest students and challenge them,” said Richard King, director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. “I wanted to provide the students with some real hands-on education, and secondly, I wanted public engagement. Our goal is to bring the students together to build a solar village, and then judge the homes side-by-side for aesthetics, and measure them for performance—to make sure the houses really work.”

The XPO Energy Exposition, hosted by the City of Irvine, ran concurrently  and connected businesses to consumers through a showcase of energy-efficient products and technologies and a series of interactive workshops. “Irvine has been the host city for numerous events in its 42-year history,” said Irvine Mayor Dr. Steven Choi. “Rarely, though, has Irvine been the destination venue for such a prestigious event as the Solar Decathlon.”

Green Builder's September 2013 issue provided in-depth looks at 10 of the 20 Solar Decathlon competition entries and provides a profile of the advanced design, sustainable construction and technological attributes of each entry. 

     
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 Top Overall Winner - Team Austria

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Team Austria's inclusion of flexible design features, such as sliding glass elements and an automated energy control system make the home adaptable to local weather conditions.