Solar-Home Designers Say Novelty Has Worn Off The Solar Decathlon pits 20 colleges from the U.S. and abroad in designing, building and operating a solar house of a standard size. Veteran participants say the novelty is gone — people now realize that future generations will eventually live in these structures.

Solar-Home Designers Say Novelty Has Worn Off

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For the last week, teams from 20 colleges and universities have been camped out on the National Mall, trying to outdo each other, harnessing the energy of the sun to power a house. Today, the winner was announced. The team from the Technical University in Darmstadt, Germany.

NPR's Art Silverman was down in the mall today, checking out the entries. And he put together this report.

ART SILVERMAN: I have seen the future. And it keeps getting closer and closer. As you approach the Solar Decathlon site, from a distance, it appears as if Uncle Sam has opened an avant-garde trailer park in the center of Washington, D.C. Closer inspection reveals that each house is equipped with solar panels, thick insulation and state of the art water and heating systems. This event is billed as team against team, but all the teams are actually driving toward a single purpose - to show the public that there's more to saving energy than just screwing in a fluorescent light bulb.

SAM COVEY: Well, one of the great things about this house is that we've built it out of structurally insulated panels, which would also have a very high insulation value.

SILVERMAN: That's Sam Covey. He's an architectural engineering student at the University of Texas in Austin. He says his team's entry was designed so it doesn't have to work very hard to maintain the right temperature.

COVEY: And one of the great things about this house is that its small footprint. We wanted to emphasize about doing more with less.

SILVERMAN: And the U.T. solar house has a bamboo plywood floor, a wood that grows back in three years, saving all those old growth forests. This event is called a Solar Decathlon because the houses are judged on 10 criteria. Points are earned for, among other things, architecture, engineering strength and ease of movement about the place. Now excuse the cliche, but no one here is a loser. The exercise involves teamwork, skill, math, creativity. In a way, the winner is the general public touring the structures.

One of the competitors is Jason Selss with the New York Institute of Technology.

JASON SELSS: We see a lot of kids coming here from the local area schools. And this is the future, you know? My children, these are the children that are going to be using this technology. So it's really good that they're coming in here now, learning about it now, because they're the future and solar technology is the future.

KELSEY CORRIVIAL: I'd live here in a heartbeat. It's really cool looking.

SILVERMAN: Seniors from Washington, D.C.'s school without walls marvel at a house built by students from the University of Cincinnati.

Kelsey Corrivial(ph), Renee Blackburn(ph), Katherine Hines(ph) and Tabby Brown(ph) say they covet some of the solar houses.

RENEE BLACKBURN: I love it. It's really eco-friendly, which I think is the best part. But it's really modern. So it's kind of cool altogether. It seems comfortable. And I love the shower.

KATHERINE HINES: All green. I like it. It's so pretty.

TABBY BROWN: It kind of looks like the houses that you see in those movies where it's like you're looking in to the future. And I love that.

SILVERMAN: The Solar Decathlon in Washington, D.C. ended today. The next one will be held on the fall of 2009.

Art Silverman, NPR News.

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