Lights. Computers. Living. Modern life requires a lot of energy. Electricity consumption in the U.S. totaled early 3,884 billion kilowatt/hours in 2010. And most of that energy used comes from fossil fuels.
A little more than a decade ago, the U.S. Department of Energy decided it was time to spur some new thinking about energy consumption at home, time to start looking at making dwellings more sustainable, time for solar-powered homes. It challenged universities in the United States and around the world to build the houses of the future.
The DOE held its first Solar Decathlon in 2002, with subsequent competitions in 2005, 2007 and 2009. For this year’s decathlon, September 23 through October 2, some 20 teams will converge near the Washington Monument to display work that pushed engineering and design to even greater limits. (If you’re in town the week prior, you may even catch the teams setting up.) Those who visit during the decathlon can tour the homes and vote for their favourites alongside professional judges.
The Solar Decathlon itself has won awards and sparked spinoffs. There will be a European competition in Madrid in summer 2012 and an Asian competition in China in 2013. If you can’t catch the houses in competition, you may still be able to enjoy them: Many of the homes have been sold and are in use as private residences around the world.
Some houses from prior competitions remain available to touring.
See this year’s houses during the decathlon from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm on weekdays and weekends from 10:00 am to 5:30 pm.
Virginia Citrano is a freelance writer for a wide range of national and international publications and web sites.