Over the past few weeks, collegiate teams from across the world over have furiously toiled to rebuild their solar-powered homes at Orange County Great Park in preparation the Solar Decathlon. And today (Oct. 3)—ready or not—they’re opened to the public. That’s despite the federal government’s shutdown earlier this week even though the decathlon is sponsored by the Department of Energy (DOE). “The Federal Government shutdown will have no impact on the visitor experience or the collegiate teams at Solar Decathlon 2013,” according Orange County Great Park.
It’s the first time the Solar Decathlon has been held off the National Mall in Washington, D.C., which may be part of the reason why it’s not quite as subject to the shutdown. This year's event is being held at the park in Irvine, Calif. This is also the first time the Solar Decathlon is coinciding with XPO clean energy exposition, a clean energy exposition designed to showcase the types of technologies and the companies behind them that are used in homes like those in the Solar Decathlon.
This year’s event involves more than 1,000 students, some of whom have traveled from as far as the Czech Republic. “These inspiring collegiate teams show our onsite visitors and online Solar Decathlon audience around the world how efficient building design and clean energy products available today can help families and businesses save money by saving energy,” said Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz. “The event provides student competitors with unique, real-world training to become the clean energy workforce of the future and helps ensure that our nation remains competitive in the global race for clean energy.”
This year the houses in the contest will compete in a number of events that test their building performance, livability, and affordability. As such, the homes will be evaluated on everything from their ability to wash clothing, dishes and cook food. They’ll also be tested on their ability to maintain comfortable living conditions, controlling heat and humidity. And, perhaps most importantly, they’re evaluated on cost. This year homes are awarded full points for having estimated costs at or below $250,000 and are docked points for costing more, according to the DOE.
Prior to the 2011 Solar Decathlon there were no limits on how much the estimated value of the homes could be. That’s despite most of them having small footprints—often no larger than two tractor trailers in size. As such, in earlier competitions the teams that spent the most on solar arrays and energy efficiency equipment were the most likely to win. Now student teams must evaluate the cost-effectiveness of each item they want to put in their house. After competing in the decathlon of events over the next nine days an overall winner will be announced on Saturday, Oct. 12.