The appliances competition helps ensure that the house has standard components—an operable refrigerator, freezer, dishwasher, and clothes washer and dryer. During the contest, the appliances were required to be used on a set schedule and the results were monitored. The refrigerator and freezer were required to maintain defined temperatures; the clothes washer was required to complete cycles within a specified period of time and the clothes needed to be fully dried—either by active or passive means and within a certain amount of time. The dishwasher was monitored for completing a cycle within a set period while maintaining minimum water temperatures.
The University of Southern California scored nearly perfectly in this category with four other teams—Team Capitol DC, Stanford University, Santa Clara University, and Stevens Institute of Technology—scoring more than 99 of the available 100 points. All of the teams used standard off-the-shelf appliances. Other kitchen appliances and lighting systems were used and measured in the home entertainment category.
The home entertainment contest and its five sections—lighting, cooking, dinner party, house electronics, and movie night—were quantified and juried. The lighting, cooking, and house electronics portions all have defined criteria, such as minimum durations for lights operating, vaporizing a set amount of water, or minimum use of specific appliances.
The dinner party and movie nights require that each team host their neighbors for two dinners and one movie night, with the idea that the teams have to use the houses as if they were living there. For the dinner parties, the team hosted six neighbors (two guest team members from three different teams) and up to two VIPs. The guests then judge the host based on the quality of the meal, ambiance, and overall experience. The movie nights are a little less formal, yet the host team is still required to have a movie running and cater to the guests. The guests score their experiences; the final score is the average of all three.
While having competitors judge each other sounds odd, the results indicate the teams were fair in their scoring methods, since only two teams scored less than 90 points. From my experience at the Solar Decathlon, this is indicative of the overall spirit of the competition. Of course, every team is there to win, but at the same time, the teams are very collaborative and supportive of one another. That said, to make sure there isn’t any “gaming” of the system, each judge is required to provide written justification for the score they provide, allowing DOE organizers to evaluate the scores, follow up as necessary, and even throw out scores. Santa Clara University was the overall winner in this contest with their Italian- and Mexican-themed meals and comfortable house.
The energy-balance contest, which compares the total amount of energy consumed to the total amount of energy produced by the house’s solar-electric system, is the one I helped judge. In the early years of the Solar Decathlon, the houses were supplied by off-grid solar-electric systems, greatly increasing the complexity compared to grid-tied systems. The event is now supplied with a microgrid and all the PV systems in this event were grid-tied, batteryless systems.