Oh, we picked the right weekend to go the Solar Decathlon. Last weekend was at least dry, with a bit of sunshine. This weekend promises to be full of rain, rain, and more rain. I thought we left all that back in Portland?!?
Anyways, I have been meaning to let you all know about our day last weekend at the Solar Decathlon. Organized by the Department of Energy, it is a competition that challenges college teams to design and build solar powered homes of up to 650 livable square feet. (As one person noted, these particular homes are designed for DINKs--double income, no kids.)
The homes are then erected on the National Mall and hooked up to the power grid for operation. They are judged in 10 different categories and are open to the public to view. This year there were 20 teams from the US, Canada, Germany, and Spain. We were able to get into 4 of the houses. The lines were fairly long and we had to do some walking the girls down to sleep in the stroller (thanks Papi Chulo). Still it was really exciting to learn about the amazing things being developed to harness solar energy and it was encouraging to see how many people were there checking it all out.
Here are some of the homes we saw:
Team Illinois (a shout-out to my homestate!). They used repurposed wood from a 100 year old barn that was being demolished and created a very traditional looking barn-like home. They used lots of bamboo and passive solar design.
Each team had to have a target audience. Many choose the DINKs which makes sense given the size limitation. Iowa State University built their house for a target audience of seniors who want to "age in place". The house was nicely laid out and had a sun porch that could be enclosed or remain open.
Each team also had a theme to their design. Penn State's theme was Natural Fusion. To that end they had a fair amount of the external space devoted to plants and produce gardens. The back wall of the house, as seen above, had plants growing on the outside. But that's not all...
And then there was Spain which had elaborate sun theme that involved the placement of the White House, Madrid, and the pyramids (don't ask as I can't remember all the connections at the moment). They built a solar roof that moves to track the sun in addition to solar panels on the sides of the house. I was also rather impressed that they built the house in Spain, drove it to Belgium, then it was shipped across the Atlantic, and driven to DC., although unfortunately I doubt that any of the transport was solar powered.
In our ongoing effort to consider our carbon footprint and to live a sustainable lifestyle, this was definitely worth all the kid maintenance we put out that day. And while don't yet have the money to invest in a completely solar powered house that nets zero energy consumption, it was encouraging to see what we can right now and to think about what we will be able to do in the years to come.