If you're looking for ideas about how to create your solar dream house or about the design principles that might apply in your community a decade from now, you'll want to peek at the Web site for the Solar Decathlon 2009. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy, the projects will be featured on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from Oct. 9 to Oct. 18. (There are a couple of dark dates, so check the schedule if you are local.)
This is actually a competition: 20 teams of college and university students from the United States and Canada are challenged with designing, building and operating the "most attractive, effective and energy efficient" solar homes. Here's a page listing the 2009 entries.
What sort of stuff can you expect to see if you visit in person or via the Web coverage?
I chatted about this with Chris Schairbaum, director of energy technology strategy for Texas Instruments, a Solar Decathlon sponsor company. TI is sponsoring the University of Illinois team, which is the alma mater of TI's legendary Jack Kilby. The house they've built is called the Gable House, which you can preview in this photo gallery.
TI's interest in solar, of course, is extensive. The company participates in several different ways, creating controller chips and components that are being used in solar inverters and converters. The company has several products that are applicable to this particular project including the MSP430 Solar Energy Harvesting Development Tool, the Piccolo and Delfino microcontrollers and the Renewable Energy Developers Kit.
Schairbaum says one of TI's big pushes is to help its customers get more energy and more efficiency out of each panel. It participates in the Decathlon because the project offers it an opportunity to test new concepts.
Of course, there are other 19 other entries in this competition. I've also received some advance publicity about the BeauSoleil team from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Theirs is a mobile unit designed to stand up against hurricane-force winds and built with the lessons of Katrina in mind. Here's a video about their entry.