U takes fifth in D.C.

Minnesota tops all other first-time entries in 20-team international solar home competition

The University of Minnesota's first-ever entry into the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon ended successfully Friday. The U placed fifth overall (838.544 points) in the 20-team competition, which featured entries from the United States, Canada, Germany, and Spain.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman announced the winners of the fourth biennial competition this morning from the "Solar Village" on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Finishing in the top three were Team Germany (908.297 points) in first, the University of Illinois (897.300) in second, and Team California (863.816).

"Our team performed extremely well, especially for a first-time entry," says civil engineering faculty member and U of M 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 tasked student to create a modern, full-featured, and livable home powered solely by the sun. Teams competed in 10 contests (hence the "decathlon" name) that evaluated several aspects of the home's appearance - such as architecture, market viability, and comfort - and that measured the way it provided energy for heating and cooling, hot water, home entertainment, lighting, and appliances. The competition ran from October 8-15.

Minnesota's entry (called the ICON Solar House for the iconic shape of its gabled roof) finished first in the engineering and lighting design competitions, and placed high in several other categories throughout the competition. The U 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 U's solar home, which began taking shape in late 2007. This interdisciplinary project brought together students from many University colleges and departments, including engineering students from the 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," says Johnson. "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 University does not yet have definitive plans for the ICON house, which has an estimated value around $500,000, once it leaves the National Mall next week. The team has discussed selling the house in order to jumpstart fundraising for an entry into the next Solar Decathlon, scheduled to take place in 2011.

Related links:

  • Visit Solar Decathlon for complete team standings and information about the competition.
  • More information about the ICON solar house can be found at ICON house.
  • Check out the UMNews story and video on the U's team at Going to the Mall.
  • Watch videos describing details of the the house in the decathlon's 10 different categories.