From Oct. 12 to Oct. 20 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) held its 2007 Solar Decathlon student competition on the grounds of the National Mall in Washington, D.C. During the nine-day event the performance and design of the 20 teams' solar-powered houses were judged across 10 categories: architecture, engineering, market viability, communications, comfort zone, appliances, hot water, lighting, energy balance, and getting around (powering an electric vehicle through the house's solar electric system).

This year, Germany's Technische Universität Darmstadt claimed first place in the overall competition, also ranking first in the architecture, engineering, lighting, and energy balance contests.

The University of Maryland, in second place overall, also ranked first in the energy balance contest, as well as the communications contest and came in second place in the lighting, architecture, and market viability evaluations.

Ranked in third place overall, Santa Clara University tied the Darmstadt and Maryland teams for first place in the energy balance evaluation, took first place in the hot water category, and placed second in the appliances, communications, and getting around categories.

The biennial decathlon is now in its third cycle, and with each competition university teams have continued to push the boundaries of house design, construction, use of materials, and solar technologies. "Maybe it's partly the money—[each team chosen receives $100,000 in funding from DOE]—or maybe it's also being third generation, but the houses this cycle are even better than what we've seen in the past," said Richard King, director and program manager for the Solar Decathlon.

The Solar Decathlon competition program gives students an opportunity to work with and design around solar electric (also called photovoltaic or PV) and solar thermal technologies, gaining valuable experience before they enter an industry that increasingly is focused on sustainability issues. Educating the next generation of architects and engineers in how to design buildings with renewable energy systems will help support the fast-growing PV industry.