Solar Decathlon in Irvine Starting October 3

The Solar Decathlon is coming up soon and will be taking place in Irvine, California, from October 3 to 13. Hosted by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the competition challenges teams of college students to design and construct houses that are energy efficient, affordable and aesthetically pleasing. Most importantly, the houses must be powered by California solar energy and produce more electricity than they consume. Each entry will be judged in several categories by panels of experts from the renewable energy and environmental industries.

The goal of the Solar Decathlon is two-fold. First, the DOE is using it as an opportunity to encourage college students to pursue careers in alternative energy, engineering and design. Second, the competition gives the public a chance to learn about solar energy and green building techniques, as the houses will be on display at the Orange County Great Park for 10 full days. Attendance is free, and each team will be offering tours of their houses. The DOE is hoping the homes will demonstrate that energy efficiency, solar power, comfort and aesthetics are not mutually exclusive concepts.

The Solar Decathlon challenges college students to build aesthetically pleasing, affordable houses that run on solar power, like this one from the 2007 competition. Photo: Jeff Kubina

This will be the sixth time that the DOE has put on a Solar Decathlon. The first event was held in 2002, and subsequent competitions have taken place every two to three years. There will be 20 participants this year, with students hailing from universities all over the world, including Stanford, Santa Clara, Czech Technical University and Arizona State University. We’ll be attending this year to root for our two local teams: USC and another team made up from students at Sci-Arc and Caltech.

“The Solar Decathlon is the Great Park’s first-ever international event,” Jeffrey Lalloway, Chair of the Orange County Great Park Corporation, said in a news release. “We are excited to welcome the students representing the 20 competing teams and their creative energy, innovation and talent as they prepare to build solar houses that will allow the public to see the future of energy, today.”

Each house will be judged in ten separate areas relating to efficiency, design and affordability. Judges will analyze the water heating systems, temperature controls, comfort levels and even the public relations campaigns of each team, such as the quality of their website and press releases. For each category, a score out of 100 points is awarded, and the team with the highest aggregate score from each criteria will walk away victorious.

Winners will be given name recognition, along with invaluable contacts and networking opportunities from the Solar Decathlon Alumni Network. Members of the jury include executives from the home building, architecture, interior design and energy industries, journalists, marketing professionals and public policy experts.

The winners of the most recent Decathlon, from the University of Maryland, will not be participating this year, so the competition is wide open. If you live in Orange County, make sure to set aside a few hours during the first part of October to visit the Orange County Great Park and tour the houses on display. We hope to see you there!