Over three weeks in October, teams from 20 colleges and universities worldwide competed on the National Mall in Washington, DC, in the fourth Solar Decathlon. Hosted by the US Department of Energy and organized by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, the event challenged university students, assisted by faculty members, to design, build, and operate the most attractive and efficient solar-powered house.

This year’s entries were judged in 10 categories: architecture, market viability, engineering, lighting design, communications, comfort zone, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, and net metering—the extent to which the house would draw from or give back to the electricity grid each year.

Team Germany, which won the previous decathlon in 2007, again finished first; shown here is the winning house. The team comprised 25 students, mostly architects, from Technische Universität Darmstadt. Inside, the house features a single, multifunctional living area. Outside, the house is almost totally covered with a...

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