Please attend the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, an international competition among 20 college and university teams to design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered house. The houses are open to the public October 9-13 and October 15-18 (11:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m. on weekdays, 10:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. on weekends) on the National Mall. Competitors include Cornell University, Iowa State University, Penn State, Rice University, Team Alberta, Team Boston, Team California, Team Germany, Team Missouri, Team Ontario/BC, Team Spain, The Ohio State University, The University of Arizona, Universidad de Puerto Rico, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Kentucky, University of Louisiana at Lafayette, University of Minnesota, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and Virginia Tech.
On October 14, the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and honorary co-host Rep. Bart Gordon (D-TN) held a briefing about the latest developments in innovative building design and technology and how they are applied in “zero energy” homes. Buildings consume approximately 40 percent of our nation’s energy. Given the Congressional debate over pending energy and climate legislation and concerns about unaffordable energy bills, this briefing showcased what can be done now. Student architects, engineers, designers, and other participants in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon are competing to design and build attractive, fully functional 800 square-foot homes on the National Mall that can operate completely independent of the electric grid. Speakers at this briefing demonstrated that the ingenuity, technology, and resources are available today to build homes that are highly energy efficient, generate their own renewable electricity, use sustainably-produced materials, and have better indoor air quality.
- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a goal to promote research and technology that will lead to marketable zero-energy homes by 2020 and commercial buildings by 2025.
- DOE Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Cathy Zoi emphasized the four essential elements to policy change: 1) high impact innovation; 2) talent; 3) capturing hearts and minds; and 4) speed and scale. The Solar Decathlon combines all of these elements, personalizes zero-energy homes and demonstrates their feasibility.
- The Solar Decathlon houses demonstrate that net-zero homes are possible in many different climates, relatively affordable, and attractive and livable. Already, several of the homes have received bids for purchase and private use.
- Net-zero energy buildings must be highly energy efficient and generate their own electricity and thermal energy.
- Energy efficiency should always be the first priority because it is cheaper and easier and makes affordable, on-site renewable energy production more practical. Energy efficiency can be achieved through good design, insulation, tight building envelopes, and energy efficient appliances and lights.
- The solar industry is growing rapidly. The price of photovoltaic panels has decreased by 50 percent from 2008 to 2009. In 2008, 365 MW were installed in the United States. In California alone, 380 MW have been installed so far in 2009.
- Federal policy options that would help the solar industry continue to grow include a renewable portfolio standard, a Clean Energy Deployment Administration which would create a positive investment environment for widespread investment in renewable energy, net-metering standards and long term power purchase agreements for the federal government.
- Net-zero energy building construction is a growing industry. There is an excellent opportunity for traditional disciplines like construction, electricians, and plumbing to expand their businesses.
- Traditional black roofs, which are ubiquitous in cities, act as heat sinks. They absorb heat during the day and funnel it into the building, increasing the need for active air conditioning systems.
- Bio-based, white-colored, cool roof systems can be easily applied to existing buildings. The surface reflects heat, which keeps the building cooler, makes air-conditioning more efficient, and reduces respiratory issues associated with heat.
- New insulation technologies, where 1 inch of insulation is equivalent to 10 inches of traditional insulating materials, increase the efficiency and tightness of building envelope.