by Peg Rosenau
The Solar Decathlon is a biennial competitive design challenge sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy. Universities from around the world vie to be included in an elite group of 20 teams with a mission of designing and building a 1,000 sq. ft. home powered by solar energy. As the name suggests, there are 10 individual challenges within the overall contest, including engineering, market appeal, energy balance, and affordability. Since Vermont is a leader in promoting renewable solar projects, it is no surprise that two of the 20 teams selected for the competition are from our state: Middlebury College and Norwich University.
A group of Shelburne Community School (SCS) students participating in an after-school class on solar and renewable energy technologies recently visited both colleges and toured the construction projects. Both homes are in the final stages of construction before being shipped at the end of the summer to be reassembled at the competition site in Irvine, Calif. The Middlebury and Norwich teams have spent almost two years designing and building the homes as well as negotiating the complicated logistics of fundraising and transportation. It is a project that requires talent from a range of disciplines and an ability to work collaboratively on a common goal. The SCS students were in awe of the technology and Vermont landscape-inspired designs as well as the enthusiasm of the students as they spoke of the rewarding experience of being involved in a “real world” project that could have lasting impact in the fast-growing industry of renewable technology and sustainable design.
Both homes, “Insite” at Middlebury and “Delta T 90” at Norwich, have computer animated walk-throughs available on their websites and each will be hosting public open houses later in the summer when the homes are completed and furnished. A grand kick-off for both teams will also be held at the Vermont State House. Visitors to Middlebury may also tour “Self-Reliance,” a beautiful finished home that is now the residence of several students and was the overall fourth place finisher in the 2011 competition. For more information about the Solar Decathlon and to follow the competition online, visit www.solardecathlon.gov.