On Sunday afternoon, hundreds of visitors waited up to an hour in a steady, cold rain to see the 2011 Solar Decathlon winner, University of Maryland’s “WaterShed.” Since the last day of the exhibit is traditionally among the busiest of the ten days that the Solar Village is open to the public, it was all hands on deck for the 19 collegiate teams. One student stood on the grass presenting her team’s house on a microphone from under an umbrella. Many other students who designed and built their houses walked up and down the long line answering questions such as, “How does the waste water system deal with detergent?” and “What do you do when the sun’s not out?”
In response to the latter -- on sunny days, the homes’ solar arrays produce more energy than they need to run their appliances. All excess electricity they generate is pushed onto the city power grid, which they can draw power from when the sun isn’t shining, like on rainy days and during nighttime. A “net-zero” home creates at least as much energy from its solar panels as the home uses from the grid. At the end of the competition, there were seven “net-zero” homes including the University of Maryland’s, second place winner Purdue University’s "INhome," and Victoria University of Wellington’s “First Light,” which came in third.
Today, University of Maryland and their 18 collegiate competitors begin dismantling the Solar Village in West Potomac Park on the National Mall. The students have been on the site for two weeks demonstrating the ability of their homes to produce at least as much energy as their appliances and gadgets consume when performing typical domestic tasks.
Throughout the competition, 14 industry professionals juried five competitions in affordability, architecture, engineering, marketing and communications. They assigned up to 100 points to each team for the competitions. The other half of the 1,000 total points were awarded for energy balance, energy measurements and student tasks.
Though the students didn’t stay in the homes, they certainly could have. Each team cooked two meals on two different nights for their Solar Village neighbors – competing decathletes who assigned points to the hosts for the meal. Another night, they had a movie night, a demonstration of the 100-point home entertainment category. In this way, the creature comforts were weighted as heavily as the engineering and architecture.
University of Maryland won the competition by placing first in three contests and sharing the win in two of the contests. While Purdue University’s INhome took first place in only one contest, it stood out throughout the competition, particularly when it took second place in the affordability contest, which was a new addition to the contests. The affordability contest cut home costs this year by 33 percent compared to the 2009 competition, as Energy Secretary Steven Chu mentioned at the closing ceremony Saturday.
“From a home that filters polluted water, to a home that can house disaster victims, to homes that fit right into a Midwestern neighborhood or at the top of a New York City apartment complex, you’ve taken this year’s competition to a whole new level,” he said.
The awards ceremony on Saturday culminated two years of work for the more than 4,000 engineering, architecture and interior design students who participated in the competition.