U of M places fifth overall in Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon

Minnesota places first in engineering and lighting design categories, tops all other first-time entries in international solar home competition

After more than two years of preparation and hard work, the University of Minnesota's first-ever entry into the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon ended successfully with the team placing fifth overall with 838.544 points. The Minnesota team took home a first-place finish in two categories: the prestigious engineering category and in lighting design.

Solar House In DC

The Minnesota team took first place in the prestigious engineering category. One unique feature that caught the attention of the judges was a student-designed liquid desiccant dehumidification system that uses solar thermal energy.

The University of Minnesota was one of only 20 teams chosen to compete in the Solar Decathlon competition, which featured entries from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Spain.Finishing in the top four spots were, in order, Team Germany (908.297 points), the University of Illinois (897.300), Team California (863.816) and Team Ontario/British Columbia (849.816).

"Our team performed extremely well, especially for a first-time entry," said civil engineering faculty member and University of Minnesota project manager Ann Johnson. "All the teams ahead of us in the overall standings had previously competed in the Decathlon, so to place fifth on our first try is truly a monumental achievement."

The 2009 Solar Decathlon challenged students to create a modern, full-featured, and livable home powered solely by the sun. Teams competed in 10 categories, which gives the competition its "decathlon" name. Some of the categories evaluated aspects of the home's appearance, such as architecture, market viability and comfort, and others measured the way it optimized efficiency and provided energy for space heating and cooling, hot water, home entertainment, lighting, and appliances.

Solar House Dusk

The Minnesota team won over the lighting designers and industry experts with its solar home's aesthetically pleasing lighting design, which creatively used natural and artificial light to meet the needs of the user while maintaining high efficiency.

In addition to finishing first in the engineering and lighting design categories, Minnesota's entry (called the ICON Solar House for the iconic shape of its gabled roof) placed highly in other categories throughout the competition. The Minnesota team finished third in the appliances and home entertainment contests and fifth in both market viability and hot water.

More than 150 undergraduate and graduate students worked on the University of Minnesota's solar home, which began taking shape in late 2007. This interdisciplinary project brought together students from multiple colleges and departments, including engineering students from the University's Institute of Technology, architecture and design students from the College of Design, and construction management students from the College of Continuing Education.

"Many of the same students have been working on this project for two years, and it's really rewarding to see their dedication and commitment pay off," Johnson said. "Being able to bring together students from so many different disciplines really gave us a leg up on the competition here in D.C."

The team does not yet have definitive plans for its ICON Solar House, with an estimated value around $500,000. The team is willing to sell the house in order to jumpstart fundraising for an entry into the next Solar Decathlon, scheduled for 2011.

For more information about the ICON Solar House or how you can support their bid to compete in 2011, visit the team's Web site at www.solardecathlon.umn.edu. October 16, 2009