What is the Solar Decathlon?

On top of being an exciting addition to our university and local Evanston community as Northwestern’s most energy-efficient building to date, House by Northwestern is part of a much broader community of green thought leaders in sustainable housing around the country and world. After completing construction this fall, HBN will load our house onto several trucks and ship it the 1,000 miles that separate Evanston, IL from Denver, CO. Here, we will join 12 other university teams from places ranging from California to Switzerland for the 2017 Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. It’s easy to get caught up in HBN’s construction, outreach and everyday operations, so with the competition just 3 short months away, we wanted to dedicate some time to our reason for being.

What is the Solar Decathlon?

The competition organizers say it best:

“The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition of 10 contests that challenge student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential, and energy and water efficiency. Simply put, there’s nothing else like it.

“Solar Decathlon is more than a competition. It’s an intensive learning experience for consumers and homeowners as they experience the latest technologies and materials in energy-efficient design, clean energy technologies, smart home solutions, water conservation measures, electric vehicles, and sustainable buildings. 

“The Solar Decathlon provides a hands-on experience and unique training that prepares the competing students to enter the clean energy workforce. This international competition has been a driving force in raising awareness about clean energy since its inception in 2002. Technologies and solutions used in Solar Decathlon homes have advanced the residential building industry both in the United States and abroad. Former Solar Decathletes who have participated in these events, whether in the United States, China, Europe, or Latin America and Caribbean, are recognized as the best and brightest, and have made significant contributions to improve the clean energy economy worldwide.” 

The Solar Decathlon also put together a video about the competition which you can access here

Why do we care?

House by Northwestern is lucky to be supported by a University that cares about promoting renewable resources and devotes time and funding to supporting student-led innovation and research. The Solar Decathlon’s mission is in line with values held not just by House by Northwestern, but with the broader university. Students involved in this project have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in energy-efficient design and renewable energy technology that they cannot in the classroom. In turn, this prepares Northwestern students to enter the growing green workforce.  

In addition, Northwestern is a global institution that values environmental stewardship. By participating in the Solar Decathlon, HBN will progress technologies in the domestic clean energy industry, a field that continues to grow every year and will continue to grow for the foreseeable future. We have the ability to impact the world in big ways by identifying and consolidating affordable green tech that saves money and energy does not sacrifice aesthetics for sustainability.  

Why should you care? 

The Solar Decathlon expects more than 90,000 people to visit the competition in Denver who are as excited as we are about energy efficiency and sustainability! Even if you won’t be one of these people, there’s still plenty of reasons why you should care.

For one thing, if you are in Evanston, our house is right in your backyard. Once we’re done building in August, you’ll be able to come visit and tour our house. After the competition, the house will come back to Evanston, its final home. We’re still in the decision-making process for what the house’s post-competition life will look like, but you can expect the house to be imbedded in the community, much like it has been every step of the way since its inception.  

In the near future, you’re likely to see green energy become a lot more commonplace, and it’s for good reason. House by Northwestern will be 90% more energy-efficient than the average North Shore home. In the long-run, this is great for both the environment and users’ finances. Using renewable resources and sustainable technology can reduce or even eliminate costs associated with heating, cooling and electricity – our home will even produce enough energy to power our car!

While we hope the future has a lot more homes that look and function like HBN, there are tons of ways to incorporate sustainability into your lifestyle without building a new house. Reading about the Solar Decathlon and technology implemented by HBN is a starting point for all kinds of ways to become the country’s next environmental stewards.