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Team Germany Takes Student Solar Decathlon Competition

Team Germany, made up of students from Technische Universität Darmstadt, took first place in the Solar Decathlon Competition, which took place this month in Washington, DC. Hosted by the United States Department of Energy (DOE), the event allowed 20 university teams to compete in designing, building, and operating the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. This is the fourth year that the DOE has held the competition.

Nearly 1,000 college students from the United States, Canada, and Europe competed in 10 contests, each evaluating a different aspect of the houses, including architecture, engineering, comfort, marketability, appliances, and lighting. All of the houses are Zero Energy Homes, which means they produce as much energy as they consume. Participants had to perform everyday tasks--cooking, laundry, washing dishes, and watching TV--to prove the energy efficiency of their homes. Plus, for the first time the solar village was connected to a micro-grid constructed on the Mall and connected to Pepco, the electric service provider in the area. Extra energy produced by the homes was pushed into the DC grid.

Team Germany had a modest group of 24 students, mostly architects, working on the home, along with other volunteers, consisting of friends and family members. The design is essentially a two-story cube with a surface covered in solar cells. Constructions costs were estimated to be between $650,000 and $850,000.

The team from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign took second place with its "Gable Home," a house that produces up to four times the energy it needs, yet looks like a traditional home. The team said that 200 people worked on the home. Its estimated construction costs were between $250,000 and $450,000.

Team California--composed of students from Santa Clara University and California College of the Arts--in San Francisco won third place with its "Refract House." Architectural juror Jonathan Knowles, from Rhode Island School of Design, said the California entry went well beyond expectations of competition rules with the creation of "microclimates" and that the home broke out of the box in aesthetic appeal. "Team California created a solar home with a beautiful design in every respect, incorporating a crystal-clear concept that successfully translates a regional architecture to Washington, DC," Knowles said. "The interior and exterior appears as one." Its construction costs were comparable to the German entry.

"We are here today to show the world the power of solar and energy-efficient design," said Allison Kopf, a 20-year-old junior at Santa Clara U. "We imagine a future where you'll generate freely from the sun with the help of innovative technology and sustainable materials. We believe we can create a healthier, more comfortable living space."

For two years, 200 students in California have worked on their entry, an 800-square-foot solar-powered house. Then, like every other team, they disassembled the home, transported it to the National Mall, and reassembled it next to 19 other solar-powered homes.

Virtual tours and videos of all 20 Solar Decathlon homes are available online, as are architectural plans and project manuals.

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