Solar Houses: Students Build & Win

Solar-powered houses built by students from 18 universities and schools in Europe, Asia, South America and the US competed for the coveted first place at  the 2012 European Solar Decathlon, awarded Sept 29   in Madrid.

Canopea as stackable modules

Schematic of Canopea (Rhone Alpes Team) as stackable modules with second story penthouse.

When the competition was over, Canopea from Team Rhône-Alpes (Grenoble France) scored the most points and judges’ accolades. The house is unique in many respects – for instance, it’s one of only two entries with a full second story.

Canopea is designed to be a nanotower — a stack of modules (individual housing units) — for an urban setting, topped with a penthouse roofed in solar panels.  The two-story version provides enough solar-generated power for the house (including multiple energy-use contests at the Decathlon) with some leftover to power an electric vehicle. The interior is a flexible open space plan with clever storage and built-ins that do double duty.

All five top point earners demonstrated  how to use patios and  outdoor areas to expand space and livability. Finishing second, Patio 2.12 (Andalucia/Spain) has four units linked by a patio – a nod to the region’s indoor-outdoor tradition and lifestyle. Rome’s Team Med in Italy placed third. Two German entries — Ecolar Home and Counter Entropy— rounded out the top five.

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In just a decade, the Solar Decathlon has become a virtually worldwide competition that draws students from Australia, Asia, South America, Europe, Canada and the US to build solar-powered prototype houses that can take up to two years to plan and build, then compete for top honors in individual contests that measure energy use, efficiency and overall performance.  Most of the houses go far beyond the energy requirements to be environmentally friendly – using natural lighting, sun-friendly siting, recycled materials, plantings, high-efficiency appliances.

Med in Italy Team

Med in Italy Team, in Rome.

Students call the Decathlon a life-changing experience  (see the video) – working together in a team and then coming together as a “solar village” of many teams for the friendly competition. It’s also a definite career-enhancer for newly hatched engineers, architects, marketing majors and others who aspire to be part of  the green economy.

The Solar Decathlon started in 2002 as a US competition sponsored by the US Department of Energy and held on the National Mall in Washington DC.  It has grown into three separate, biennial competitions for college- and university-based teams from every continent.  A team may include several universities that band together to tap special skills needed ( teams for the Sixth US Solar Decathlon, 2013 in California).

China inaugurates its first Decathlon in Datong, China ( August 2013) under an agreement with the US Department of Energy, with a number of hybrid teams (China-US, England-China) along with teams from Israel, Turkey, Iran, Egypt and other countries. The third Solar Decathlon Europe will be held in 2014 on the grounds of the Chateau de Versailles, outside Paris.

Check out:

FAQ’s on the Solar Decathlon

China’s Solar Decathlon 2013  All teams selected.

US Solar Decathlon 2013 Oct 3-13, 2013 Irvine Calif. All teams selected.

Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 in Versailles, France (teams being solicited)