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Competition Puts Energy-Efficient, Solar-Powered Homes on Display

The U.S Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon brought teams from 20 universities to the National Mall to showcase their designs for a modern, solar-powered home. Interest in the event has grown amid new concerns over energy costs and climate change.

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  • MARGARET WARNER:

    A striking new Main Street went up on the National Mall in Washington last week: an avenue of 20 solar-powered homes. The pre-constructed houses were reassembled virtually overnight by teams from 20 universities in the U.S. and around the world, all finalists in the third Solar Decathlon, a contest sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy.

    All these 600- to 800-square-foot structures had one thing in common: They were powered exclusively by the sun. The decathlon is the brain child of Department of Energy physicist Richard King. His aim was to kick start creative thinking about how to design and build solar homes from the ground up, and not just from the architecture and engineering students on the teams.

  • RICHARD KING, Director, Solar Decathlon:

    We're also trying to teach the professionals, you know, come learn from these universities, who are our best and brightest and our storehouse of new ideas, to come and look and see what these new-generation technologies have. And we're also trying — you know, if the builders want to start doing this, they need a market, so we're also trying to educate the consumer, the public to say, "Wow, these houses are really awesome. We want to have one; I want to live in one. Where do I get one?"

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    To make it to the finals, all these houses had to meet exacting standards of efficiency and livability, while relying on their own entirely self-contained solar energy systems.

  • RICHARD KING:

    We make them wash dishes, wash clothes, light their space, do heating and cooling. They must maintain their house between 72 and 76 degrees Fahrenheit, 40 percent and 60 percent humidity, and they also have to charge an electric vehicle. And the team that gets the most miles charging their electric vehicle wins Contest 10, which is getting around.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Spurred by rising energy costs and concern over climate change, some 200,000 people came to see these decathlon homes, double the crowd of the 2005 contest and quadruple the number in 2002. Jackie Knightshade works near the Mall.

  • JACKIE KNIGHTSHADE, Washington, D.C., Resident:

    I'm concerned about the greenhouse effect and what's happening with the Earth. And I just wanted to come out and see what I can do, what I can incorporate from here into my everyday living. And I do want to put panels on my home, the home that I'm living in now.

  • MARGARET WARNER:

    Gunner Holmquist, who brought his son from Spokane, Washington, for the event was looking for another quality, as well.

  • GUNNER HOLMQUIST, Event Attendee:

    Whether this is livable, if it's a people-friendly kind of space. You know, can people live in these buildings? Not just the ideas and the theories, but the German building is absolutely livable. You just want to walk in there. And other buildings look like a spaceship, which is too much. It's too much metal.

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