U’s Solar Decathlon team places fifth in international competition

The goal was to build and operate an energy efficient house using solar power.

Solar Decathlon

Jim Tetro

Solar Decathlon


The product of two years of hard work was on display on the National Mall this past week as the University of MinnesotaâÄôs Solar Decathlon team placed fifth overall in the United States Department of EnergyâÄôs biennial Solar Decathlon competition. This was the first year the University has participated in the competition and only the fourth time the Department of Energy has held the international competition. The 20 teams chosen to compete were asked to build and operate an energy-efficient, solar-powered home. Teams came from all over the world to compete and a school from Germany won the overall competition. The UniversityâÄôs solar house, called âÄúICON,âÄù won first place in two of the competitionâÄôs 10 individual categories; engineering and lighting design. The judges were particularly impressed with the homeâÄôs stringent energy budget âÄî it took only 500 watts, the equivalent of five 100 watt bulbs, to power the lighting in the entire home, faculty project manager Ann Johnson said. âÄúThe âÄòUâÄô really proved itself in these categories,âÄù Johnson said. The large windows in the home bring natural lighting into the fully furnished home, which was made with mostly reclaimed wood and other low impact materials. The team had been constantly working since arriving in Washington D.C. on Sept. 30. âÄúWeâÄôve had no time for fun,âÄù Johnson said. The first week consisted of reassembling the house and getting it approved for occupancy. This was followed by another week of judging for individual contests and hours of public tours. Thousands of spectators a day walked through the home, many wondering which house on display could be the house of the future. âÄúIt may not be this exact house,âÄù graduate student and project manager Shengyin Xu said. With a gabled roof reminiscent of a classic American family home, Xu said she believes that someday houses like these will be economically practical. The ICON Solar House , with a retail value of around $500,000 including labor costs, will be disassembled early this week so it can be brought back to Minnesota. Future plans for the house are still murky, but the team would like to display it somewhere on campus or have it be used as actual housing for visiting professors, if University deans and President Bob Bruininks approve. Whenever anyone has worked on a single project for as long as Xu and her team members have, it becomes difficult to part ways, she said. âÄúItâÄôs going to be hard not to work on the project,âÄù Xu said, but added that the demanding life of a college student will quickly bring some of the team members back to a familiar place. âÄúSome of us need to catch up on our studies,âÄù Xu said, who has a thesis to write. As for the future of the UniversityâÄôs Solar Decathlon team, they are headed back to the drawing board as they turn their attention to the 2011 Solar Decathlon.