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Student Architects Shine in Solar Energy Contest

Students from Penn State tour the solar village on Solar Education Day at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., Monday, Sept. 26, 2011.

Students from Penn State tour the solar village on Solar Education Day at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C., Monday, Sept. 26, 2011.

Dreams and designs of young architects are shining brightly in Washington at the bi-annual Solar Decathlon.

They have come from around the world, college students combining their education with their imagination to create homes of the future that could be built now. Nineteen teams have built their creations in downtown Washington DC this year at the fifth U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

Each home generates power from solar panels attached to the roof. Usually when the sun is out, more power is generated then used and the excess energy is sent to the public power grid. At night, the reverse happens and power is drawn from the grid. The solar houses are designed to have a net zero power use over time, sending and using equal amounts of electricity.

Richard King, the Director of the Solar Decathlon, said "The Solar Decathlon challenges schools of architecture and engineering to design from the ground up a highly efficient solar powered house. We started this program back in 2002 to challenge these universities, our best and brightest, to design beautiful homes. The object was to educate the students, [and] also educate the public."

The public will get to see and walk through the homes through October 2.

Richard King says these are not just conceptual models."These houses are fully functional. And they have a lot of components in them that are directly useable by homeowners today," he said.

Some of those components include simple items like insulation in the home built by the team from Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand.

"We have 240 millimeters of wool insulation in the walls," said 24-year-old Ben Jagersma, the technology leader of his team. "So it is like a big wooly blanket, which keeps the house warm in the winter time."

But with the shading elements of the canopy, the tints on the windows, also keeps it cool in the summer months as well."

Interior designer 27-year-old Anna Falrow hopes the design of the 'First Light' home will separate their entry from the rest. "I think something that is maybe a little different with our house that it is a completely open plan. We do not have segregated rooms in the house apart from the bathroom and the laundry. The rest of the space is all one," she said.

Also with a unified space design is the team from Tongji University in Shanghai, China. Hua Guodong, the 23-year-old architecture leader, explained his 'Y-Container' concept.

"Y shape is a really flowing shape. The common residential house has some fixed divisions, different rooms. But in our Y-Container house there is no fixed compartment, no fixed division. You can see every angle from one branch of the Y-Container," he said.

The Y-Container revolves around the triangle shape. Hua's team also created more useful items from the simple shape.

"We designed a special triangle furniture which can be chairs, which also can be combined, integrated into a desk, and can also be the cabinets," he said.

Along with 15 U.S. universities are other international entries from Canada and Belgium, which have each spent nearly two years designing, building and testing their homes before shipping the components to Washington.

Solar Decathlon Director Richard King said, "Climate change, housing, energy are global concerns. In order to solve the problems, we need to work together, everybody. So we have invited international schools here to bring their culture, bring their design techniques, and do this cross fertilization and show each other how we can all live sustainably together."

As with the Olympic Decathlon, this competition includes 10 contests designed to assess how well the houses perform and how livable and affordable they are. Each contest is worth a maximum of 100 points, for a competition total of 1,000 points. The winners will be announced October 1.

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    Jim Stevenson

    For over 35 years, Jim Stevenson has been sharing stories with the world on the radio and internet. From both the field and the studio, Jim enjoys telling about specific events and uncovering the interesting periphery every story possesses. His broadcast career has been balanced between music, news, and sports, always blending the serious with the lighter side.