The sunny Southern California weather was on hand for the majority of the event and the production from the PV arrays reflected that. Every team tied for first by producing more energy than their houses consumed during the competition period. Given the variability in PV technologies and array installations, I was impressed, yet not surprised, with each team for maximizing their points. The houses are designed to produce at least as much energy as they consume. Given that many of the houses are designed for less-than-ideal climates, the PV systems may have been larger than necessary for the Southern California locale. In previous Decathlons, this contest was more difficult to ace since the fall weather in Washington, DC, can be highly variable.
All the teams used standard, readily available PV components in their systems. This was a little disappointing in the sense of wanting to see cutting-edge technology. At the same time, it was uplifting to see the PV industry being able to supply components for these houses without any special modifications. There was an even mix of microinverters and string-inverter systems. A handful of teams used DC optimizers to help boost their systems’ power output.
The 2013 Solar Decathlon winner was the Living Inspired by Sustainable Innovations (LISI) house by Team Austria’s Vienna University of Technology. The house’s nested façades offered an innovative way to adapt the house to changing outdoor conditions. The passive-solar design incorporated an automated screen and awning system to regulate gain through the envelope.
The heating and cooling came from a subfloor system using active water and air systems. The centralized electrical and mechanical component helped increase efficiency and minimize the area required to house all the components. To best utilize local resources, they used wood as the primary building and insulation component for the structure. They also utilized otherwise-wasted material by using wood bark for the seats of their barstools and for wall coverings in the bedroom and bathroom.
One of my favorite aspects of the LISI house was how the team worked together. I observed 19 different houses under construction, each with their own team dynamics, and Team Austria had noticeable team cohesiveness. They always took meal breaks together—not just the members from the different “trades,” but everyone. I later learned that this was the approach they took from the beginning. Due to space restrictions at their campus, they had to build their Solar Decathlon house at a site that was hours away from campus. This resulted in the team living together for days at a time—their teamwork and dedication showed in their final product.
This year, a new award—the Byron Stafford Award of Distinction (created in memory of Solar Decathlon site manager Byron Stafford)—was awarded to Norwich University for being “honest, caring, humble, intelligent, fair, reliable, steadfast, and genuine.”
The other special recognition this year was delivered to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte for the People’s Choice award. Their garden-rimmed deck and beautiful interior made the house a favorite among the public who toured the Solar Decathlon houses.
Ryan Mayfield is the principal at Renewable Energy Associates, a design, consulting, and educational firm in Corvallis, Oregon, that focuses on PV systems. After this year’s Solar Decathlon, he now hopes to inspire his own children to become solar decathletes.
Solar Decathlon • solardecathlon.gov