Solar Decathlon runs without sun

Team Germany came out on top in a college competition to create solar-powered homes on the National Mall this past week.

The Solar Decathlon, an event sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, involved 20 teams from around the world competing in 10 mini competitions with the goal of promoting renewable energy.

DOE spokesman John Horst said colleges submit proposals to the competition in which they attempt to design the most “aesthetically appealing” and energy-efficient homes that are targeted at the “typical family.”

Teams must “demonstrate staff and support” necessary for a two-year commitment to design and build an 800-square-foot house. The DOE provides each team chosen to compete with $100,000 to start their projects, but the groups raise additional funds on their own.

The public was free to view the small neighborhood of brightly lit, modern houses built by students throughout the competition.

Nicole Ritter of Revolution Green, a Living and Learning Cohort at GW, said her group also checked out the event.

“The Decathlon represents everything that the sustainable living movement should be about – pooling together the ideas of students across disciplines to find creative solutions to a problem that affects us all,” said Ritter, a junior and Revolution Green’s co-founder and coordinator.

Ritter said the Solar Decathlon houses were impressive, but noted that in her LLC’s 1920s townhouse, Building JJ, students have cut their water and energy consumption by over 50 percent in the past year by using low-flow shower heads and motion sensored hall lights.

“It’s our hope that our townhouse is thought of as the University’s own ‘green house prototype,’ and that the changes we’ve made will be used as a model for reducing GW’s carbon footprint elsewhere across campus,” Ritter said.

GW has never competed in the Solar Decathlon, a competition that has occurred biannually since 2002.

Ken Zweibel, the director of GW’s Institute for Analysis of Solar Energy, said the Solar Institute had not entered a house proposal into the competition.

Zweibel said the institute, which was established last fall, was mainly concerned with “policy issues… large scale solar systems… [and] connections to the power grid.”

While the dean of GW’s School of Engineering could not be reached for comment, Zweibel said that the engineering program at GW was “inviting us to contribute [to the Solar Decathlon event] in the future.”

Ritter said GW could establish a “revolving energy fund” to “finance student projects that have high initial costs, but save serious energy. The money the projects save the University each year in electricity or water costs would be put back into the fund to finance future initiatives.”

“We are still working to put solar panels on the roof of Building JJ, and hope that the revolving energy fund will eventually finance that and other green student initiatives,” Ritter said.

Currently the Solar Decathlon teams, which competed to see who had the best architecture, lighting designs, market viability and other home features, are disassembling their houses.

After competing since Oct. 8, awards were presented to teams Oct. 16.

Following Team Germany, second place went to University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and third place to Team California, comprised of Santa Clara University and California College of the Arts students.

After being selected to participate in the competition two years in advance, students build their home then move it in pieces to the National Mall to reassemble in a week.

When the sun wasn’t shining, power was drawn from a grid to keep the homes running.

Each day consumer workshops were held by DOE and other sponsors to raise awareness about renewable energy.

Requests for proposals for the Solar Decathlon’s 2011 competition are due by Nov. 17, and teams will be notified if they’ve been selected Dec. 18.

Amy D’Onofrio contributed to this report.

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