Students Compete in 2007 Solar Decathlon
March 7, 2012 - 4:40pm

The National Mall in Washington, D.C., became a hub of environmentally friendly activity and education this October when 20 solar-powered houses were on display as part of the 2007 Solar Decathlon. This annual competition, primarily sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, challenges student teams to design and construct energy-efficient houses. The group of houses is open to the public--a chance for everyone to see first-hand what solar power can do.

Teams work for about two years on the project at their campuses. The houses are then transported to Washington, D.C., and set up on the National Mall. Each house must be livable and derive electricity for all lighting, appliances and temperature-control systems from solar electric, or photovoltaic, power. Because the houses must be livable, an electric car is included with each house, and that must receive enough electricity to run as well.

This year, Technische Universität Darmstadt of Germany took first place; second place went to the University of Maryland, and Santa Clara University received third place.

In addition to trying to make each house energy efficient overall, teams were also judged in 10 specific contests, one of which was lighting--a hot topic considering lighting accounts for 12 percent of residential energy use (according to the U.S. Department of Energy).

Judged by Nancy Clanton, founder and president of Clanton & Associates; Naomi Miller, of Naomi Miller Lighting Design; and Sandra Stashik, of Grenald Waldron Associates, this contest required teams to mix both style and efficiency to produce an effective lighting design that utilized both electric and natural light.

Teams used products from several lighting companies, including electronic dimming ballasts from Lutron, recessed lamps from Bruck Lighting Systems, LEDs from GE Lighting, track lighting from Lightolier, compact fluorescent lamps from Philips Lighting Co. and UniLED deck lighting. Visitors to the houses were able to view these products in action, as well as learn about their efficiency and functionality in the home.

The following are excerpts of notes from the judges of the lighting competition: 

  • University of Maryland: “We saw great lighting controls for both daylighting and the electric lighting system, and the team was able to successfully manipulate the system. We appreciate how Maryland treated each space in the house differently according to the intended use of the space.”
  • Technische Universität Darmstadt: “Every space in the house is daylit, including the bathroom. The team successfully used a very complicated control system to maintain quality lighting conditions during both daylight and nighttime periods. The use of high-end lighting fixtures contributes to the success of the electric lighting design. LEDs are integrated creatively into the shelving.”
  • Team Montréal: “The glowing yellow wall is a striking feature, and the lighting in the bathroom is among the best in the solar village. The vertical lighting feature on the north bedroom wall is a very nice feature. We feel this team put a lot of effort into investigating many different lighting design strategies and then selected a strategy based on their findings.”

For more information about the Solar Decathlon, visit

View photos from various stages of the competition in the slideshow at left.

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