60-Second Earth

Sunny Germans Triumph in U.S. Solar Decathlon

The European country--not known for its abundant sunshine--has become the world leader in solar know-how. David Biello reports

It's all about the meters. As any would-be installer of solar rooftop panels knows, having the right meter to count how much power your photovoltaics are producing is key. So perhaps it's no surprise that Team Germany snatched victory on the last day of the 2009 U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon with a perfect score in, you guessed it, net metering.

Simply put, the Germans made more solar power than anybody else in the competition: 11.1 kilowatts to be exact. Or more than twice as much electricity as the house needed to run itself, making the home a mini-power plant.

The victory marks the second win in a row for the Germans.

The secret ingredient for Technische Universitat Darmstadt was putting expensive monocrystalline silicon solar panels on the roof but also CIGS thin-film solar cells on the exterior walls as part of the aluminum siding. That was helped by the cube structure of the house.

The Germans also dominated in another category: most expensive house. The surPLUShome cost at least $650,000 for just 800 square feet. The runner-ups—the University of Illinois team—with their barn-like gable house made from reclaimed wood and bamboo cost just $250,000. And that's the ultimate hope of the decathlon—a sunny sun-powered home that doesn't have to be an expensive one.

—David Biello

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