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.”
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.
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!”
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.
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— 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.
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.
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)
U.S. Solar Decathlon blog and videos