Launch Slideshow

Innovations from the 2011 Solar Decathlon

Student-led teams tested unique products and designs.

Innovations from the 2011 Solar Decathlon

Student-led teams tested unique products and designs.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Appalachian State University
    The team's solar canopy made with Sanyo bifacial solar panels accepts sunlight from above or below, for up to 30% extra efficiency under ideal conditions.

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    Appalachian State University
    The movable trombe wall in the living room contains phase-change material that absorbs and releases heat.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Team Belgium
    Built to the Passive House standard, the E-Cube is an affordable kit house that can be assembled in days with no special tools or machinery.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Canada
    The house's design was inspired by the teepees of the native people of Southern Alberta. Its east-facing entrance and south-facing windows acknowledge the sun as a traditional source of energy and life.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Team Florida
    A liquid dessicant waterfall pulls humidity out of the air to keep the house more comfortable and reduce demand on the air conditioner.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Florida International
    Versatile louvered canopies help the house adapt to Florida's hot and sunny climate by allowing for various levels of enclosure. They can slide down and lock into place for added hurricane protection.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    University of Illinois
    The Re_home concept was designed as a rapid-response solution for rebuilding after a natural disaster. It is made up of two prefabricated housing units that can fit on one truck and be installed on site in 12 hours.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Team Massachusetts
    High-efficiency PV panels are integrated into the southern trellis over the deck, generating electricity and shading the deck and living area in the summer while allowing low-angle sunlight to penetrate in the winter. The triple-glazed argon-filled Makrowin windows are Passive House-certified with R-10 glass.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Middlebury College
    A green wall for growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs uses water from condensation from the home's HVAC system, which is collected and funneled to a spigot near the refrigerator.

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    New Zealand
    A one-of-a-kind drying cupboard dries clothes by pumping solar-heated hot water through a heat exchanger located at the bottom of the cabinet. It can dry a load of wet towels in about two hours.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    New Zealand
    Shower water falls through wooden slats into a stainless steel tray below and then flows into a greywater tank where it is held until it's used for irrigation.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Ohio State University
    Shaded by polycarbonate panels, the enCORE home features living spaces arranged around a central core that contains the mechanical and plumbing systems.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    SCI-ARC/CALTECH
    The futuristic-looking CHIP house features a one-piece tufted exterior skin that acts as a weather barrier and provides an R-value of 60.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    University of Tennessee
    The rooftop holds a cylindrical tube solar array--the only one like it in the competition--that captures light from all angles as the sun moves through the sky. Thin film is wrapped around the inside of the tubes for 360-degree light capture and more steady power generation throughout the day.

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    Jim Tetro/US DOE

    Tidewater Virginia
    The sun room's floor contains phase change material from BioPCM which holds onto heat during the day and releases it to warm the home long after the sun goes down.

This year’s Solar Decathlon student design competition showed off new technologies and unique innovations in many areas, including alternative energy, passive heating and cooling, and water conservation and reclamation.

Sponsored by the Department of Energy, the biennial Decathlon is a program that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.

From Sept. 23 to Oct. 2, 19 teams and their solar-powered houses competed in 10 categories (each worth 100 points) that included engineering, hot-water generation, affordability (a new category this year), market appeal, energy balance, and architecture.

This year’s winner, the University of Maryland’s WaterShed house, was inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The nearly 900-square-foot home is made of two rectangular sheds that form a split butterfly roofline which maximizes solar-energy generation and collects rainwater along a central axis. The two sheds are connected by a third, smaller module that houses the bathroom. Rainwater collected from the roof via the central axis mixes with the house’s greywater from the shower, clothes washer, and dishwasher, in constructed wetlands located under the bathroom and along the decks.

For the best designs and innovations from the competition, click on the slideshow above.