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Solar Athletes Warming Up for Decathlon

Sullivan Solar Power

Sunny southern California will be the site of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013, a competition in which teams of college students vie to design and build the best solar-powered houses. The event will take place Oct. 3-13 at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif.-the first time the decathlon has been held outside of Washington D.C.

First held in 2002, the decathlon is a biennial event. During the run of the competition, the student teams aim to win the top prize by creating a home that combines affordability, design, consumer appeal, and energy production and efficiency. Students are judged and monitored, and awarded points in 10 categories: architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort zone, hot water system, appliances, home entertainment, and energy balance. Each category has specific tasks. For instance, in the home entertainment category, teams must show their home's livability by completing items such as hosting two dinner parties, operating a television and a computer, hosting a movie night for neighbors, completing a cooking simulation, and keeping all lights on for specific times. In the energy balance contest, all homes will be metered and teams earn points for producing, via photovoltaic and thermal solar systems, all the energy needed for consumption in their dwellings. The student teams normally spend about two years designing their homes for the competition. Among the universities represented on the 20 teams competing in the 2013 decathlon are Stanford University, Arizona State University, the University of Southern California, the University of Kentucky, Old Dominion, and Middlebury College. There are also international teams from Canada, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

The goal of the solar decathlon is to train students for jobs in clean-energy industries and encourage collaboration between academic fields, as well as promote whole-building design and affordable energy-efficient systems for the home. The solar decathlon homes will be open to the public from Thursday to Sunday during the run of the event.

The decathlon is also part of XPO, billed as a “world's fair” of clean and efficient energy. Open to the public, the XPO is divided into zones, such as arts and culture, farm and food, and transportation. In each zone attendees can learn about the role renewable energy plays in everyday life, and what the future holds for new developments in the world of clean energy.

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