For University of Maryland, Solar Decathlon Victory is a Day in the Sun

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The final results of the 2011 Solar Decathlon caught the University of Maryland off guard. After all, the UMD team was only one of 19 competitors assembled on Washington D.C.’s West Potomac Park last week as the Department of Energy sought out this year’s most innovative and practical solar homes.

Schools from around the world were in attendance. National teams like Ohio State, Middlebury College, Tongji University in China and Ghent University in Belgium built modular houses to withstand ten judging categories, from the creativity of their architecture to the efficiency of the homes’ hot water pumps and appliance power grids. The Decathlon was a sustainability endurance race.

Maryland’s overall victories in the architecture, hot water management and energy balance categories proved the capstone of a decade of competition in the Solar Decathlon. Twice, in 2002 and 2005, Maryland failed to take the top spot in the competition, held off by the University of Colorado at Boulder. They returned in 2007 and sat out 2009’s contest.

Now, nearly 10 years since the first University of Maryland solar panel came to Washington, D.C., “WaterShed” house takes center stage. University President Wallace Loh praised the engineering and design skills of the 200 faculty and student participants in this year’s Decathlon, saying, "The innovation, creativity, skill, vision, cooperation, determination, and, yes, energy displayed by this team is both remarkable and a joy.”

The Department of Energy’s jurors were equally impressed by Maryland’s sustainable concept house. "WaterShed achieves an elegant mix of inspiration, function, and simplicity," Architecture Juror Michelle Kaufman said, "It takes our current greatest challenges in the built environment - energy and water - and transforms them into opportunities for spatial beauty.”

Despite rain and clouds limiting turnout in the Decathlon’s first days, Maryland’s WaterShed attracted visitors through a combination of novel home innovations:

- Maryland built on its 2007 entry with an improved “liquid dessicant waterfall,” a saline-based temperature regulator capable of pulling humidity out of the air without the heavy environmental impact of traditional air conditioning units.

- WaterShed’s geothermal heat regulator provided more than hot water for the home’s kitchen and bathroom – it pushed Maryland to first place in managing hot water sustainably.

- The home’s solar array, intended to power the house year-round as a carbon-neutral building, helped give Maryland its victory in energy balance.

Other winners included People’s Choice selection Appalachian State University, which ended the competition with a 12th place overall finish. Despite poor performance in comfort and energy balance, Appalachian charmed visitors with a comprehensive home entertainment system and a visually pleasing interpretation of sustainable housing.

Despite the 2011 Solar Decathlon drawing to a close, Planet Forward viewers can still vote on which collegiate team lands a featured spot on Nightly Business Report. Voting ends October 10th, so review the competitors and cast your vote at Planet Forward’s Solar Decathlon Central!

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