I have been debating for several months whether to formally join the Solar Decathlon Team at MIT. For the past year, I have been a team consultant, but I finally bit the bullet and wrote my name on the dotted line as a bona fide member.
MIT is one of twenty universities competing this fall in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon Competition, which is organized though the National Renewable Energy Lab. The goal of this event is to successfully design, build, and operate the most attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered home among 20 competing schools. These solar houses must be islanded from the grid and perform numerous energy-guzzling tasks representative of modern domestic life using only energy collected from the sun over the span of a week. This competition represents an exciting proving ground for many sustainable living technologies and techniques.
Open to the public, the Solar Decathlon is staged on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Teams assemble their homes on the Mall and then compete in 10 contests to determine an overall winner. 2007 is this event’s third year. Previous contests (2002 and 2005) were both won by the University of Colorado, which is the juggernaut to beat in ’07.
Each team draws upon the strengths of its home university to corner certain competitions. For example, in 2005 the New York Institute of Technology recruited students from its Culinary Arts Center to compose gourmet meals for the judges in the cooking competition.
Of course, MIT’s mantra is advanced technology. My most serious reservation about formally joining the team was that they seemed hell-bent on filling the home with untested new technologies from phase-changing insulating materials to split band gap solar cells. 2007 is MIT’s fist year at the Solar Decathlon, and we are competing against schools with five years of accumulated expertise. We will do well just to build a house that does not collapse under its own weight over the course of a week’s competition.
In my opinion, simplicity is the best design approach both with respect to renewable energy and when testing out the waters in unexplored territory. Hopefully my commitment to join the MIT Solar Decathlon Team injects some conservative thinking into design of our solar house.