The Solar Decathlon: Innovation Incubator

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Northwestern University’s Enable House featured DecoTech integrated PV roofing panels.
The UC–Davis house used structural BamCore panels on both the interior and exterior. Panels were separated by 9.6 inches of insulation for an R-value of 45.
The UC–Davis house used structural BamCore panels on both the interior and exterior. Panels were separated by 9.6 inches of insulation for an R-value of 45.
Washington University’s CRETE House used ultra-high-performance concrete as structural and aesthetic architectural elements.
The Missouri University of Science and Technology’s SILO House utilized a Nanawall to transition from cozy solar gain to outdoor living.
The University of Maryland’s reACT House integrated a minisplit heat pump and an air-to-water heat pump for space and water heating. The units gained efficiency from a preconditioned sunroom space.
The University of Maryland’s reACT House integrated a minisplit heat pump and an air-to-water heat pump for space and water heating. The units gained efficiency from a preconditioned sunroom space.
The University of Maryland’s reACT House integrated a minisplit heat pump and an air-to-water heat pump for space and water heating. The units gained efficiency from a preconditioned sunroom space.
Several teams used the washing machines and condensing dryers made by Beko.
Several teams used SolarEdge power optimizers on their PV arrays.
The University of Alabama team implemented water monitoring and leak detection with DRiY.
The University of Alabama team implemented water monitoring and leak detection with DRiY.
Northwestern University’s Enable house used Awair air-quality monitoring systems.
Northwestern University’s Enable house used Awair air-quality monitoring systems.
The Missouri S&T house used American Clay natural plaster in the bedrooms.
Swiss NeighborHub House
Berkeley/Denver RISE House
Missouri S&T SILO House

Since Solar Decathlon’s inception in 2002, this U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored collegiate competition has been an incubator for residential solar home innovation. Solar Decathlon teams have integrated and demonstrated technologies well ahead of market adoption.

The 2017 competition was no exception to the rule of innovation common to all past Solar Decathlon events. Eleven collegiate teams spent two years designing solar-powered homes, which they built, disassembled, transported, and rebuilt at the Solar Village in Denver, Colorado. There, the teams’ homes were compared in a series of 10 contests—that’s the “Decathlon” part—some based on measured data; others juried by a panel of experts.

New to this competition were the Innovation and Water contests. The Innovation contest encouraged teams to go beyond off-the-shelf solutions and come up with unique and thoughtful solutions for their particular project. Teams were evaluated on research, sustainability, innovation, and durability and safety. Although previous Solar Decathlon entries often included water-saving features and innovations, the Water contest was the first competition that scored teams on how they integrated appropriate landscaping and solutions that conserved and reclaimed water.

Many teams in 2017 used market-ready products and systems and incorporated them in innovative ways—for example, the University of Maryland’s home used heat harvested from an adjacent glazed courtyard to improve the efficiency of the heat-pump compressor units. Some of the products and systems may not yet be household names, but if past Solar Decathlons are any indication, some soon may be.

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