On October 12, 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) officially launched the 2007 Solar Decathlon student competition on the grounds of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. During the nine-day event, the public is invited to tour 20 solar-powered houses in the competition's Solar Village. Student teams are competing in 10 categories: architecture, engineering, market viability, communications, comfort zone, appliances, hot water, lighting, energy balance, and getting around (powering an electric vehicle through the house's system).

This year's competition is the third for the Solar Decathlon, which takes place every two years, and university teams have continued to push the boundaries of house design, construction, use of materials, and solar technologies. "Maybe it's partly the money—[each team chosen receives $100,000 in funding from DOE]—or maybe it's also being third generation, but the houses this cycle are even better than what we've seen in the past," says Richard King, the Solar Decathlon's director and program manager.

The program not only gives university students experience in working with and designing around solar power, it also raises public awareness that the technologies don't have to make a home look homely. One of the biggest barriers to consumer acceptance of solar electric systems (also called photovoltaic or PV) and solar thermal systems in residential applications is the stigma of '70s-era experimentations. Therefore design delight figures prominently in the competition and is the first contest judged.

The architecture category offers teams an opportunity to score the most points possible at once (there are daily tallies)—up to 200. The teams are tasked with integrating solar and energy efficiency technologies seamlessly into their houses, and judges evaluate how well the buildings accommodate and incorporate the technologies used. "Their goal is to make the house look

beautiful and to make the solar on it become invisible, and that helps sales [of PV]," King points out.

Designs are also evaluated on their strength and suitability, the appropriateness of the materials used, the ease of entry and circulation among semi-public and private zones, the amount of interior space provided, and unique details that engage the senses. "The judges are looking for pure architecture," King explains. "They don't care whether the house works or not; 'delight' factor."

The winners of the Architecture contest were announced Monday, October 15. Germany's Technische Universität Darmstadt (Technical University of Darmstadt) took first place, scoring 193.25 points; the University of Maryland secured second place with 189.5 points, and the

Universidad Polytécnica de Madrid (Polytechnic University of Madrid) placed third with 187.5 points. The members of the architecture jury were: Gregory Kiss of Kiss + Cathcart Architects, Susan Maxman of SMP Architects, and architectural consultant Grant Armann Simpson. The Decathlon is open to the public (with the exception of Wednesday, October 17) and continues until Saturday, October 20. You can follow the results of daily and category competitions at www.solardecathlon.org.