ISU selected as one of 20 international teams for 2009 DOE Solar Decathlon competition

AMES, Iowa -- The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has selected Iowa State University as one of 20 teams from 25 colleges and universities to compete in the fourth Solar Decathlon in the fall of 2009 in Washington, D.C.

Solar Decathlon teams design, build and operate attractive and energy-efficient solar-powered homes. Each team is awarded $100,000 over two years to support the Solar Decathlon's research goal of reducing the cost of solar-powered homes and advancing solar technology. The DOE funds will be provided under a subcontract to ISU from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory Division, a DOE laboratory operated by the Midwest Research Institute and Batelle.

Since its inception in 2002, the Solar Decathlon has developed into one of the premiere venues in the United States for research and development into green building technologies.

In the fall of 2009, the National Mall will be transformed into a showcase for cutting-edge solar and building technologies as Solar Decathlon homes from 16 U. S. states and territories and three countries are displayed in a solar village. More than 100,000 people visited the houses during the 2007 competition.

ISU faculty and students from 11 departments in five colleges have met weekly for more than a year to establish the first Solar Decathlon team from the state of Iowa. Ulrike Passe, assistant professor of architecture, is heading the effort.

"Iowa State will bring a new and distinctive perspective to the competition with our strengths in design, engineering and agricultural technologies," Passe said.

"The project also offers our students a fantastic opportunity to solve real-world problems in an interdisciplinary and team-oriented setting," Passe said.

More than 100 ISU students are expected to participate-either as extracurricular activity through the Solar Decathlon Club (an official student organization open to all students), in specific for-credit courses in design and liberal arts and sciences, or through assignments and projects in various courses in business, design, engineering, and liberal arts and sciences.

The project also will involve the building trades program at the Des Moines Area Community College, Ankeny, and the Sustainable Energy Technology Program at Iowa Central Community College, Fort Dodge.

The Decathlon gets its name from the 10 specific areas of competition: architecture, engineering, market viability, communications, comfort, appliances, hot water, lighting, energy balance, and transportation. In addition to producing enough electricity and hot water to perform all the functions of a home, from powering lights and electronics to cooking, washing clothes and dishes, each home must produce surplus energy sufficient to power an electric car. The team that finishes the week of competition with the most points wins.

"Our house is a laboratory for ongoing research into design for extreme climates. In our case, we need to accommodate Iowa's cold winters and hot, humid summers," Passe said.

Iowa State's entry, the Interlock House, will combine active and passive heating and cooling strategies to create thermal comfort and energy efficiency, she said.

"Our design incorporates a balance of three primary system features - a photovoltaic array to produce electricity, the structure's envelope and thermal mass to capture and store energy, and water-based radiant heat and cooling vents to balance overall energy flows," she said.

The 800-square-foot Interlock House will:

  • generate enough energy for its needs and be designed to direct any surplus to a companion house or the grid;
  • showcase new building materials under development at ISU, such as soy glues and soy plastics;
  • use recycled and recyclable materials ;
  • incorporate water conservation strategies, such as grey water recycling and rainwater collection;
  • test new spatial composition strategies and smart envelope design;
  • explore "constant custom" user-interface systems for personalized control of thermal comfort; and
  • be transported to Washington, D.C., using trucks powered by bio-diesel fuel.

During phase one, which begins this spring and continues for a year, several prefabricated panels and technical components will be designed, constructed and tested on campus to evaluate and verify the performance of critical parts. Phase two will begin in spring 2009 and involve complete assembly of the house on the ISU campus. In August 2009, the house will be disassembled, transported to Washington, D.C., and reassembled.

After 2009, ISU's Solar Decathlon house will be reconstructed on campus to serve as an educational facility and laboratory for green building technology and systems performance testing.

Fund raising for The Interlock House is already under way, Passe said. Projects in past competitions have cost more than $500,000. The ISU Solar Decathlon Team is supported by the ISU Provost Office, ISU Institute for Physical Research and Technology, Iowa Energy Center, U.S. DOE's Ames Laboratory, ISU College of Design, ISU College of Engineering, ISU Center for Building Energy Research and ISU Department of Architecture.

The team also seeks corporate sponsors to support the ISU Solar Decathlon project. Contact principal investigator Ulrike Passe, (515) 294-7142,, for more information.