2011 Solar Decathlon: Education at the Forefront of Sustainability


By: Tripp Hall

As the global population steadily increases and natural resource availability continues to decline, our planet’s future is in the hands of students and innovators using new sustainable technologies.

In a little less than a year, 20 universities from around the world will gather on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. to show off the latest wave in sustainable development.  From September 23 to October 2, 2011, the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon will challenge these university teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered homes that are affordable, energy-efficient, and attractive.  The winner of the competition will be the team that best blends cost-effectiveness, consumer appeal, and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

Teams are awarded points on ten criteria:  architecture, market appeal, engineering, communication, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, energy balance, and affordability.  The affordability contest is new to the Decathlon in 2011, and will award full points to teams that build houses with construction costs estimated at or below $ 250,000.  Homes that cost in excess of $600,000 will be awarded zero points, allowing the Solar Decathlon to showcase more affordable sustainable houses that are more realistic for American consumers and developers in today’s marketplace.

The Solar Decathlon is a biannual event and student teams spend almost two years designing and building their houses in preparation for the competition.  The homes are entirely solar powered and the competition tests the buildings’ energy systems to maintain certain temperature ranges, provide lighting, run appliances and more.

The purpose of the Solar Decathlon is to educate students and the public about the many cost-saving opportunities presented by home designs that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems that are available today.  For homeowners, the Decathlon serves as a showcase for energy-efficient and renewable energy products and their use and benefits within the home.  For building professionals, the Decathlon provides educational opportunities concerning new building technologies and techniques, such as energy-efficient lighting and LEED building design.  For students, the opportunity to compete on a global scale and apply classroom knowledge is sure to enhance employment prospects in a shifting global job market.

Since the first Solar Decathlon in 2002, seventy-two houses have competed on the National Mall.  After the competition, the teams return to their respective universities.  But what happens to the homes?   The past homes have been put to a variety of uses.  Some contribute to university research and outreach on their campuses.  Others serve as educational exhibits for the public, showcasing the benefits of renewable energy and energy efficiency.   Some are used for business meeting spaces.  To date, seventeen others serve as private residences, with four still for sale.  You never know, there may be a Solar Decathlon house near you.

For more information about the DOE Solar Decathlon, or to find out how to get involved, visit the Department of Energy’s website at:  www.solardecathlon.gov

Tripp Hall is a second year law student at the University of Denver, an outdoor enthusiast, and a student attorney in the University of Denver Environmental Law Clinic

Welcome to the University of Denver Sturm College of Law/Rocky Mountain Land Use Institute Blog, a special section of triplepundit.com! Here, University of Denver Sturm College of Law students will report on emerging, novel and contested land use and development issues from a sustainability perspective. We believe the development of the American West, and indeed the entire planet, necessitates a closer and more responsible look at not only how we use natural resources but how we build our communities and economies.We invite you to comment and engage with us over issues of interest to you. And we invite you to suggest topics for us to research and report on from our unique perspective as law students. But most of all, we invite you to take these ideas and share them with your friends and colleagues so we can all be involved in a more informed and forward-thinking discussion about our future.