In June, 17 teams representing nine different countries began a 10-day competition for the title of “best solar house design.” Judged on 10 different categories ranging from architectural design to energy balance, the teams are awarded points based on their house's performance. This might sound familiar if you follow the U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE) Solar Decathlon. Held biennially on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this is a competition designed to promote innovation in sustainable solar design, and to get the word out about it. The European competition took place in Madrid, as part of the European Union and Spanish government's continued commitment to promote sustainable solar design, technology, and education.

The Solar Decathlon Europe was created in 2007, and evolved out of the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid's participation that year at the U.S. Solar Decathlon. Their initial interest in holding a solar decathlon competition in Europe was supported by both the Spanish Embassy in the United States and the DOE, and led to the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States Government and Spain's Ministry of Housing. This agreement states that the government of Spain's Ministry of Housing, with guidance from the U.S., is committed to organizing and hosting two Solar Decathlon Europe competitions to be held in Madrid, in 2010 and 2012, and for subsequent competitions to be held on years that alternate with the DOE's competition. The Solar Decathlon Europe follows the same basic structure of its American counterpart, assessing teams in 10 contest areas and three major categories: task completion, measurement, and jury scoring.

This year's first place award went to Lumenhaus by Virginia Tech. Their winning design incorporated an open, flowing floor plan and the eclipsis system, an innovative façade technology that uses two layers—a metal shutter shade and a translucent insulating panel—to block direct sunlight while filtering indirect natural light through a perforated wave pattern stamped into the metal. This system also allows views to the exterior while maintaining privacy for the house's occupants.

Second place was awarded to the University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim for their Ikaros house, whose design incorporated a controlled shading system, ample use of glass, and a modular system to allow for expansion and extension. The Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences received third place for their house that conceptually takes into account extreme weather conditions found in desert regions and addresses these factors in its construction. Towers for ventilation with evaporative cooling and the use of thermal mass in the interior are two ways in which its design responded to these types of climate conditions.

Europe has long been a champion of sustainable design and solar technology, as evidenced by the international participation in the U.S. Solar Decathlon and Team Germany's winning homes in 2007 and 2009. Establishing a European counterpart expands the program's reach, engaging students worldwide and furthers the discussion and use of solar technologies in our increasingly energy-demanding world.