Everything Looks Bright At The 2013 Solar Decathlon

Canada’s Pure Energies asked me to cover America’s latest solar conference, and it was shiny indeed.

Six Things You Must See at Solar Decathlon 2013

The secret is out: Home solar is going supernova, and creating a nationwide renewable infrastructure independent from overstressed grids and market volatility. But you can still witness tomorrow’s innovations today at the U.S. Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon, which just kicked off at California’s Orange County Great Park in Irvine.

That’s where over 1,000 students from universities across our warming Earth gather in teams to compete in 10 contests across 10 days. The goal? To build the most affordable, livable and efficient solar houses that could help pave our way to a future free from dirty fuels and unsustainable emissions.

Installations are open to the public now until Oct. 6 and Oct. 10-13 from 11AM to 7PM. Here’s a handy list of what you won’t want to miss if you’re on the hunt for bright ideas.


Playing the Field at the 2013 Solar Decathlon

After a first week of scorching heat in the Southern California desert, the Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon started its second week with some very welcome rains and clouds. Irvine’s unexpectedly cloudy skies threw a wrench in the plans for some of the collegiate teams that gathered from across the world in Irvine to build and field high-efficiency homes in a battery of contests. In particular, a lack of sunshine took its toll on scores in the Energy Balance Contest, where teams must measure to ensure they’re producing at least as much energy as their solar home needs.

Despite the gloomy weather midway through, some hardy competitors still had renewable energy banked for the stretch run to Sunday’s closing ceremony and overall champion. Especially Vermont’s upstart Middlebury College, who still had 100 kilowatts stored in its $260,000 entrant, Solar Path, which merged spacious design with high-efficiency living.


A Closer Look at 8 Leaders from the 2013 Solar Decathlon

Vermont’s upstart Middlebury College’s $260,000 entrant, Solar Path merged spacious design with high-efficiency living. Passive insulation stuffed with Vermont newspapers and removed solar panels lining an edible, educational walkway rather than the traditional rooftop helped create a zero-net project that helped Middlebury’s ranking. Its team and materials traveled primarily by rail, cutting its carbon footprint by two-thirds.

Middlebury’s Vermont neighbor Norwich fielded the affordability champ Delta T-90, a $165,000 high-efficiency steal. Using cross-ventilation, honeycomb glass and flexible thin-film panels and stripping out a mechanical room entirely gave Norwich a much-needed edge for more realistic green design and living for the mass market.


Solar Decathlon 2013: A Conversation with the Winners

What should realistic and affordable — but still beautiful and cool — solar homes for the mass market look like in the future? If the Solar Decathlon team from the Vienna University of Technology has anything to say about it, they’ll be modular social creatures capable of adapting to favorable and unfavorable climates.

Team Austria emerged victorious from the Solar Decathlon earlier this month. The team’s sustainability-minded students designed, fielded and crowned their LISI house winner of the Department of Energy’s 2013 Solar Decathlon. More lengthily known as Living Inspired by Sustainable Innovation, LISI’s debut in our government’s mostly American competition was an international object lesson in forward-thinking housing and marketing.

As I explained earlier this month in my 2013 Solar Decathlon field report and its photovoltaic photo gallery, Austria’s LISI felt like a high-end housebox with recoverable space wherever one turned, nicely in tune with its exterior and interior territories. I recently corresponded with Team Austria’s architect Philipp Klebert and Sebastian Ortner, who explained how LISI came to be — as well as where solar housing needs to be for coming generations locked in global warming’s crosshairs.