U.S. Solar Decathlon: The Winner Is…

Visitors line up to tour the Team Austria house, built by students from Vienna Institute of Technology, after it came in first place overall at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. on October 13, 2013 (Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

Visitors line up to tour the Team Austria house, built by students from Vienna Institute of Technology, after it came in first place overall at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013, October 13, 2013 (Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

For the 19 collegiate teams in the 2013 U.S. Solar Decathlon — the waiting is over!  Proving that the Solar Decathlon has become a world competition, Team Austria and the AIR House from Czech Republic swept first and third place  when all the contests were tallied — with the University of Nevada at Las Vegas in second place.  The Las Vegas team was highly ranked throughout the 10-day competition, with a consistent second-place finish in many of the 10 juried contests.

Decathlon manager Richard King (U.S. Department of Energy) noted the close scores among competitors, often with only a point or two difference in the standings after each contest. Even more important, he noted, “It is the first-ever Decathlon in which every house produced more energy than it consumed.”

Deck and interior Team Austria House

Deck adds space to Team Austria House

The Decathlon started in 2002 as a Washington DC-based event, with U.S. collegiate teams. As a result of MOU’s between the U.S. Department of Energy with Europe and China, it has morphed into three biennial contests.  Teams from throughout the world may apply for the competitive slots to participate; over time, the teams have expanded as multi-institution collaborations to draw upon the architecture, engineering, communications and other skills needed to plan, design, build and interpret the solar-powered houses.

The Solar Decathlon China 2013 competition concluded in August, with a first place finish by Australia’s Team UOW (Illawarra Flamehouse), with South China and Sweden in second and third place.  Next year’s Solar Decathlon Europe contest will be held in June 2014 in Versailles France.

This year’s U.S. competition in Irvine, Calif.,  marks a departure from past decathlons, which were held in Washington DC, primarily on the U.S. National Mall. Good thing since the U.S. Government  has been shut down since Oct 1, and would have spelled doom for the competition.

Las Vegas Team house market appeal won the judge's high scores. Photo credit Jason Flakes US Dept of Energy

Second place: Las Vegas Team house market appeal won the judges’ high scores. Photo credit Jason Flakes US Dept of Energy

The (University of Nevada) Las Vegas team leader underscored “the level of dedication that is evident in the final score we got today — working long hours in 120-degree heat.” He added, “This is what college kids can do!”

University of Nevada Las Vegas Interior Photo by Jason Flakes

University of Nevada Las Vegas Interior Photo by Jason Flakes

DesertSol house reflects the spirit of the Mojave Desert and its natural abundance (lots of sunlight), with a surprising feature: capturing rain from the occasional desert downpour to provide evaporative cooling and irrigation. It is designed to be an ultra-efficient desert retreat, with a weathered wood rain-sun screen that shades the building. And there’s a retractable solar shade too, to take advantage of winter sun and screen from the hottest summer heat.  With the Decathlon over,  DesertSol  house is headed to the Las Vegas Springs Preserve, 180 acres of natural exhibits, botanical gardens, hiking trails, and desert- living educational facilities built around the original water source of Las Vegas.

Spectacular kitchen design with soaring ceiling in the Las Vegas house -- and solar-powered to boot.

Spectacular kitchen design with soaring ceiling in the Las Vegas house — and solar-powered to boot.

The Czech Republic’s  AIR House (Affordable, Innovative, and Recyclable)  was conceived as a traditional weekend hide-away for the countryside. The team from the Czech Technical University  planned this as a place that seniors could use as a pre-retirement get-away and permanent residence  after retirement.

AIR House Czech Republic

AIR House Czech Republic

AIR House— load-bearing structure as well as the thermal insulation, façade, finishing, and furniture—is made almost entirely of wood. It is modest in interior space and generous in its outdoor area. That’s intended  to foster health and social community among active retirees. Materials were selected  according to their effects on the five human senses.

AIR House bedroom Czech Republic Team

AIR House bedroom with all-wood interior,  Czech Republic Team

Vienna University of Technology took top honors this year — a first-time contestant in the U.S. competition. Like other many entries, it features screen and awning designs that help keep living spaces cool. A big plus — passive solar design draws on sunlight to complement solar-powered heating and electricity.

Interior of LISI - Vienna's solar-powered house

Interior of LISI – Vienna’s solar-powered house

LISI (Living Inspired by Sustainable Innovation) features two patios that provide a balance between interior-exterior spaces; and a patio herb garden that takes water from a rainwater reservoir. After the Solar Decathlon, LISI travels to Austria’s biggest model home exhibition site, where approximately 100 manufacturers present prefabricated house designs. In addition, LISI will be available for further research and study for future generations of architecture and engineering students.

Meet the teams through this portal — each has its own web page.

Photo gallery (all team houses)

Check out the teams’ scores

U.S. Solar Decathlon blog and videos