The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon has a rigorous college course in sustainability in homes where college students must compete as a team to determine a winner. Teams from universities all around the world focus on sustainability in different ways. All of the team’s efforts go towards an environmental cause that is significant to them and their region. While some focus on the challenging drought that has riveted California in recent years, others attention are on rebuilding the Southern communities that have been devastated by the 2011 tornado outbreak in Alabama. The teams have spent years designing energy-efficient households that utilize solar panels and other innovations.
There are a total of 10 competitions in which the committee looks at breakthroughs in the sustainability field, methods of re-using water and the ability to intelligently power the houses. The committee takes into account the cost-effectiveness and the heating/cooling appliances of the models being introduced.
This year, the University of Maryland has a team named reACT, titled after their goal to integrate ‘Resilient Adaptive Climate Technology’ into their home. The teams passion and development came from a desire to create a home in which energy is harnessed from the sun, water and food. This enables living conditions to be in harmony with nature. From these values came the idea to build the home for a married couple from the Nanticoke Indian Tribe in Denver, Colorado. The home includes essential features of self-reliant living such as a composting system, a hydroponic garden, a vegetable garden and movable walls covered in plants.
For the first time in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon’s history, the teams that are competing for the win are eligible for at least $100,000. The competition requires that each team builds their solar house at the competition site.