60-Second Earth

Solar Decathlon Promotes Sunnier Future

Students vie to be named top decathlete, but the real winners could be homeowners. David Biello reports

[Below is the original script. But a few changes may have been made during the recording of this audio podcast.]

Homes are rising on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. No, it's not a return of Hoovervilles thanks to the Great Recession. These are solar homes competing in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon, which starts October 8.

From Cornell University to Virginia Tech, 20 student-run teams have designed homes that will be judged on 10 fronts: from lighting to how energy efficient the cooking can be—as well as the washing up afterwards. 

The homes incorporate the latest technology: an iPhone app to control windows described to me by Team California co-leader Allison Kopf. Smart energy meters that can communicate with the grid employed by returning 2007 champions Technische Universitat Darmstadt. 

I'm personally rooting for Team Missouri. It's where I grew up and it's not typically known for its solar technology.  

The winner will be announced Friday, October 16, but in many ways it doesn't matter who takes the glory. Homes eat up 20 percent of U.S. energy use and companies are donating their products to the students to prove their real world energy efficiency. The true winners will be the homeowners putting some of these energy efficiency and solar technologies to work tomorrow.

—David Biello

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