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Solar Decathlon

Photo of a woman assembling the Team Alberta solar-powered house at the Solar Decathlon, with the U.S. Capitol Building in the background.

Solar Decathlon is an international competition that challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. NREL has provided technical expertise for this U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) event since its conception in 1999.

Considered one of DOE's most successful efforts, the Solar Decathlon helps remove multiple barriers to the adoption of solar energy technologies by:

  • Educating students and the public about the money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions
  • Demonstrating to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable-energy systems available today
  • Providing participating students with unique training that prepares them to enter the clean-energy workforce.

Expertise and Knowledge

NREL has developed a range of capabilities by supporting five Solar Decathlon events and more than 90 collegiate team efforts that turn innovative housing concepts into a working solar-powered village.

Microgrid Infrastructure

During the event, NREL experts work on-site with utility partners to install a fully-functional microgrid in about one week's time. This infrastructure, which includes seven 75 kVA transformers, 40 three-phase disconnects, and 77 outdoor outlet boxes with circuit breakers, supports 20 solar-powered houses as well as all other village electrical loads throughout the three-week event.

Performance Measurement

To provide accurate Solar Decathlon competition scoring, NREL has 23 Campbell Scientific data acquisition systems that monitor the competition houses and weather conditions. A central scoring engine converts raw data from an array of measurement tools, including photometers, humidity probes, pyranometers, and handheld power meters, into scores based on the criteria outlined in the official Solar Decathlon Rules.

Operational Expertise

NREL oversees the Solar Decathlon competition site setup and takedown, management of vehicles, and delivery of solar village infrastructure as well as staffing, safety, and security at the event. By performing and managing the organizational tasks of the Solar Decathlon, NREL has developed a proven track record of delivering a fair and safe competition that showcases energy-efficient residential building technology integration.

Learn more about the Solar Decathlon.