A Solar Village Pops Up on the National Mall


Image credit: David DeFranza

If you head down to the National Mall in Washington, DC, anytime from today until October 21, you will be surprised to find that a new neighborhood of solar-powered homes has sprung up.

Don't worry: It's not the result a new development plan snuck past Congress by City Hall. These houses are entries into the 2009 Solar Decathlon.The Solar Decathlon is a three week event organized by the U.S. Department of Energy. This year, 20 teams of college and university students, from across the country and around the world, have gathered on the National Mall to see who can build the most efficient and attractive solar home.


Defending champs, Team Germany, putting finishing touches on their house. Image credit: David DeFranza

This year, designs range from the traditional prefab "luxury double-wide," to modern interpretations of classic regional styles, to spacey-concepts that look as though they were landed instead of built. The systems and materials used also occupied all points on the spectrum. Some of the houses, their builders claimed, could be bought or built by the average consumer today. Others used custom computer systems and prototype materials to showcase the cutting edge of building technology.

The goal, however, is not to sell homes or designs. Instead, the competition provides an opportunity for universities to engage their students in a multi-year, multidisciplinary, project that involves the knowledge and talents of several departments. Most of the teams were comprised of students of engineering and architecture, art and landscape design, computer science and business. Their houses represented the efforts of dozens, sometimes over a hundred, participants and simulate the challenges of a building project in the real world.


Teams work on their houses with the Washington Monument in the background. Image credit: David DeFranza

The Solar Decathlon is also chance to raise awareness about solar and other environmentally-friendly building systems. With its very public location between the Capitol and the Washington Monument, the showcase is accessible to anyone in DC this October. If you can't make it to see the houses in person, the U.S. Department of Energy is also providing extensive coverage online, including photos and videos. You can even watch time-lapse footage of the solar village being built.

So, whether you're in town or watching from afar, be sure to check in on the progress of this year's Solar Decathlon. After all, you might see some of these designs coming to a neighborhood near you soon.

Read more about solar houses:
Solar Decathlon 2007: Maryland's LEAFHouse
Solar Decathlon House Adopted by Texas Astronomical Observatory
Spain's Amazing Solar Powered House Rotates Roof to Catch Maximum Rays
Virginia Tech & the Solar Decathlon: What About Us?
Penn State Uses Ed Begley Jr. to Win Solar Decathlon

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