Solar Decathlon Places 13th in DOE Competition To Build a Solar Home

The MIT Solar Decathlon team placed 13th out of 20 teams in the Department of Energy competition to build a practical solar home. MIT’s entry, a house called “Solar 7,” earned top marks for its efficient use of solar energy but lost points in architecture and market viability. MIT competed in the competition for the first time this year.

Solar 7 placed eighth for engineering and sixth in a distance competition in which the team drove an electric car charged by the house.

The house was one of seven to win full marks for using less energy than its solar panels generated. But Solar 7 placed 19th in architecture, 19th in lighting, and 20th in market viability, which measures the market appeal of the house.

The DOE Solar Decathlon, which took place at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. from Oct. 12–20, challenged teams to build an energy efficient and aesthetically pleasing 800-square-foot home. Houses competed in 10 different areas, including architectural design, engineering excellence, comfort, hot water output, and lighting. The maximum possible score was 1,200 points.

Darmstadt University of Technology in Germany took first place with 1,024.85 points, followed by the University of Maryland, with 999.807 points. MIT earned 833.302 points, placing 13th and edging out Carnegie Mellon University by less than a point.

Faculty adviser Kurt L. Keville ’90 and project manager Corey P. Fucetola G led the team, which was composed of undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and volunteers from the greater Boston area, including master builders, carpenters, and students from the Boston Architectural College.

Over a period of two years, the team designed and built Solar 7 from scratch. In February 2007, they finalized plans for the house, breaking ground over the summer and completing construction in early October.

Fucetola said the MIT team focused on creating flexible spaces to free movement and on fusing high-tech features such as radiant floorboard heating, an aerogel warm wall, and 42 solar panels. The Solar 7 team was also committed to renewable building practices, incorporating bamboo and recycled wood into its interior.

The Solar 7 house currently sits disassembled in storage in New Hampshire, awaiting sale. Keville said he hopes to sell it to a Massachusetts non-profit organization.

Another competition will occur in 2009, and Keville said the possibility of MIT participating is under discussion. Keville said he would like to see MIT compete in the inaugural competition of Solar Decathlon Europe, which is planned for 2010.