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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Sept/Oct 2002 : Special Section

Special Section

Decathlon Generates Energy Solutions

“One second of power directly from the sun can provide all the electrical power to light Times Square in New York for a billion years.”


Environmental and business leaders in challenging times value vision, innovation, breakthroughs in technology, teamwork and ingenuity. That’s why BP thinks the Solar Decathlon, a unique competition that is taking place from September 26 through October 6, 2002 on the National Mall in Washington, DC—is so extraordinary.

On 14 separate university campuses, interdisciplinary teams of students and their faculty advisors have completed the design and construction of solar homes for transport to the Solar Decathlon. The participating schools—Auburn, Carnegie Mellon, Crowder, Colorado-Boulder, Delaware, Maryland, Missouri-Rolla, North Carolina-Charlotte, Puerto Rico, Texas A&M, Texas at Austin, Tuskegee, Virginia and Virginia Polytechnic Institute—will each transport, re-construct and then operate its solar home on solar power alone during the contest. BP is taking this opportunity to learn from some of tomorrow’s leaders.

The event is the brainchild of the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Renewable Energy Laboratories, and patterned after the ancient athletic contest which featured 10 separate events in determining a winner. The 10 contests of the decathlon—such as The Comfort Zone, Home Business and Getting Around—require powering a modern home and office with energy supplied by the sun, and demonstrating that the sun can supply all the energy necessary for the daily demands of a small household and home-based business.

The ultimate decathlon challenge is to successfully synthesize design elements and solar energy with energy efficient technologies into a livable domestic environment.


The Decathletes
Team approaches vary. Crowder’s home is a novel French cottage. Virginia Polytechnic’s house offers a central energy section and two wings for working and living. Auburn University makes use of solar symbolism such as a sundial and solar megaphones. The University of Missouri-Rolla uses 32 BP solar panels mounted on the roof to generate more than 5,000 watts of energy. And the University of Texas at Austin plugs a modified Airstream trailer into its home to create a solar-run mobile environment.

All the schools’ efforts are multi-disciplinary, bringing together teams of engineering, architectural, industrial design, building
construction, business and communication students. At the same time, the designs strive to be consumer oriented, creating practical and visually appealing homes that meet America’s perceptions of what a solar home can be.

BP is confident that the 14 solar homes humming in Washington, DC, will bear fruit for years to come. It believes that the coordination and dedication that enables these teams to bring such innovative solutions to the challenges of running a house on solar power on the Capitol Mall is an example to all of us seeking to make a positive difference with our environment. As one of the largest manufacturers of solar panels in the U.S., it is pleased to be joining with tomorrow’s leaders in developing solar energy as a real energy choice.


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