College Students Compete to Create Best Solar-Powered Home

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Phil Horton of the Arizona State University and University of New Mexico team gave a tour of the SHADE house at the Solar Decathlon 2013 held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Photo: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Phil Horton of the Arizona State University and University of New Mexico team gives a tour of the SHADE house at the Solar Decathlon 2013, held at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. Photo: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

They may not sprint, throw a javelin or pole vault, but an accomplished group of students is showing that they’re decathletes ready to go the distance — in the sport of creating solar-powered homes, that is.

They’re currently in the midst of the 2013 Solar Decathlon, organized by the U.S. Department of Energy biennially since 2002. The competition challenges teams from colleges across the U.S. — and a few from abroad — to design and build a solar-powered home that’s affordable, energy efficient, marketable and attractive.

The 20 entries this year include features like edible walls, a walkway that heats your home, digital art, siding that converts smog to nitric acid and even movable units to create a private backyard. Like a traditional decathlon, there are 10 contests that make up the Solar Decathlon — the houses are judged on everything from architecture and market appeal to affordability and how well the designs accommodate the pleasures of living, such as sharing meals with friends and family, watching movies in a home theater and surfing the Web. In other words, it’s about style and substance — who can create the most innovative overall package.

Next page: Preparing for the competition

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