Solar Decathlon 2011 will be open to the public from Sept. 23-Oct. 2, 2011.

The U.S. Department of Energy announced thatSolar Decathlon 2011will hold its opening ceremony on Sept. 22, 2011, and will be open to the public from Sept. 23 through Oct. 2. The Solar Decathlon is a competition that challenges collegiate students from across the globe to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, attractive and easy to live in.

The fifth DOE competition will feature 16 U.S. teams from 14 states, including California, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Tennessee, Vermont and Virginia. The competition will also include teams from Belgium, Canada, China and New Zealand.

Student teams generally spend nearly two years designing and partially building their solar homes on or near their campuses. The teams then transport their homes to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where they complete construction of the homes and then operate them for more than a week while competing in 10 juried contests. Each contest is judged by the competition’s criteria for architecture, market appeal, affordability, engineering and communicating accomplishments to the public.  

In addition, monitors in each house will determine which teams do the best job at keeping their home in the comfort zone; delivering 15 gallons of hot water over a 10-minute period each day; washing and drying laundry and operating other appliances, including a refrigerator-freezer and a dishwasher; and meeting all of the home’s energy needs. A tenth contest judges the teams on home entertainment and includes criteria that are measured - such as lighting the house, boiling water to simulate cooking and operating a television and computer - as well as two dinner parties and one “movie night” that are awarded points by the attendees, who come from neighboring teams.

The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency. The Solar Decathlon educates both student participants and the public about how to integrate affordable clean-energy products into homes to save money and reduce energy use. In addition, it provides participating students with unique training to enter the clean-energy workforce.