Energy Crisis: Day One

The U.S. Department of Energy’s third Solar Decathlon is now under way in Washington, D.C. Two years ago, twenty university teams from the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, Spain and Germany began designing the world’s most energy-efficient solar homes. Their off-the-grid creations – now on display in a Solar Village on the National Mall – will be judged for seven days in ten categories, encompassing everything from architecture to how well their appliances run and water heats. The event, managed by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, is meant to push innovation and then showcase what’s possible in the realm of solar construction.

But at its core, it’s still a competition. And this year, all eyes are on the University of Colorado. CU has won the only two previous decathlons and this year’s team is hell-bent on defending that title. Toward that end, the team decided to kick things up a notch this time by developing a complex thermal mechanical system to heat and cool the house and its hot-water supply.

The only problem is that the team never tested the system -- and now it’s not working and the team is running out of time.

I’m following the students as they scramble to figure out what went wrong, at the same time they push their larger concept. The CU house emphasizes marketability, with a shipping container as the mechanical core that can be prefabricated and easily moved, with any size or style house then built around it.

Judging concludes next weekend. Check this blog for updates as the winners of individual categories are announced daily. In the meanime, you can take a virtual tour of the CU house and size up the competition here. For more information, click here. -- Jessica Centers

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