While most people may not have heard of the Solar Decathlon, it's a large and intense competition, put on every year by the U.S. Department of Energy that generates some amazing results. According to the Solar Decathlon website, the event involves "10 contests that challenge student teams to design and build full-size, solar-powered houses." From among these student teams, the winner will be "the team that best blends design excellence and smart energy production with innovation, market potential, and energy and water efficiency."
At the 2005 Solar Decathlon in Washington D.C., a solar-powered home constructed by students from the University of Michigan took top honors. Their design, a 660 square-foot home made partially from sustainable materials such as sunflower-board, ash wood, and aluminum was titled the "MiSo House" by its creators. According to the University of Michigan website, the MiSo House was designed to be easily customizable and transportable, with panels which can be easily broken down and snapped back together in different configurations.
It is this extreme transportability that made it possible for the MiSo House to be moved from its home of ten years on the grounds of the University of Michigan to its new, permanent location on the private property of Lisa and Matt Gunneson, who live in northern Michigan. According to Inhabitat, the home was able to be moved piece by piece, making the process far less cumbersome than trying to move even a small traditional modular home.
Once it is reassembled, the home will serve as one of the most energy-efficient private homes in the world. The secret to its efficiency is hidden in every design element, from the solar panels on the roof to energy batteries beneath the flooring, to the unique "solar chimney," which heats and circulates air throughout the curved roof to warm it during cold months. 100 percent of the home's electrical energy needs are provided by solar energy, which is fantastic news for the environment.
Generating electricity through traditional means can have an enormous environmental impact, which is why many scientists, engineers and other researchers are searching for ways to make renewable forms of energy, like solar energy, more accessible.
According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, traditional means of generating electricity, such as burning fossil fuels, accounts for almost 40 percent of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S.. This carbon dioxide, also known as CO2, helps to trap methane and other greenhouse gasses in the planet's atmosphere, contributing to an increase in rising temperatures.
Innovative engineering and resulting architectural designs, such as the MiSo House, are one small step toward a future where more environmentally-friendly means of energy production are the norm. Competitions like the Solar Decathlon encourage young people to look ahead to this future, as well as give them valuable skills for solving the many issues associated with rising temperatures.
Meanwhile, individuals like the Gunnesons, who are willing to jump into the future of clean energy feet first, may well serve as an inspiration to others as solar power and other forms of renewable energy make their way into the mainstream of public consciousness.