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College Students Show How Awesome Green Design Can Be With Pop-Up Solar Village

Each year the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon challenges 20 groups of college students to envision a greener future.

One of the competing teams in front of their design.

Solar-powered houses aren’t just trendy, they’re also an important step in making our earth more sustainable for future generations. In a bold and creative move, for the last 10 years the U.S. Department of Energy has held an annual Solar Decathlon, which challenges 20 collegiate teams to design, build, and put into operation cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive solar-powered residential buildings. The event takes place each year in Irvine, California, where a makeshift solar village is a created over several months and then opened to the public, free of charge. After a two-year design and building phase, and several weeks of judging, last weekend DOE announced that the Stevens Institute of Technology had won top honors with a stormproof design inspired by Hurricane Sandy.

Each competitor was judged in 10 categories, from engineering to “curb appeal.” More than just providing grand plans and pop-up models, teams were required to complete real-life activities inside their homes to prove the livability of their designs. These ranged from cooking dinner to doing laundry to hosting a movie night. The annual competition is a unique opportunity for students to learn about solar power, create and execute a large-scale project, and become more involved in the global green entrepreneurial community. As a rep of the the DOE told GOOD, “The students [participating] are absolutely brilliant, and for many of them this competition provides a springboard to successful careers in the green building industry.”

This isn’t the first time the Stevens Institute of Technology has competed in the Solar Decathlon. It made strong showings in the Solar Decathlon 2011 and the Solar Decathlon 2013. But this year the judges were especially moved by the SIT students’ story. Inspired by the devastation of Hurricane Sandy, which inflicted some of its worst damage on SIT’s home state of New Jersey, the design, Sure House, was built to withstand storms while “fighting climate change with energy-saving innovations.” The runner up was the University at Buffalo, with a sustainable greenhouse space that lets residents grow veggies indoors year-round. The competition has proven so successful that its gone global, with the first Solar Decathlon Latin America and Caribbean taking place December 2015 in Santiago de Cali, Colombia. Program organizers also anticipate an expansion to Europe, China, and the Middle East in the near future.

Think your designs have a chance to make a change? Don’t wait: applications for the next U.S. Solar Decathlon in 2017 are due Oct. 29

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