Solar Decathlon 2011 – 19 Designs to Save Wild Lands

The annual Solar Decathlon was held on the on the National Mall in Washington DC through the beginning of October, and while the solar-rooftops and rain gardens might not directly showcasing ways to conserve our natural spaces and wild places, each of the unique designs in the competition show how saving energy can save land.

One of the most prominent features of all of the 19 prototype homes on display – some looking like they were relocated from Anytown, USA, and some looking like set pieces from Buck Rogers – are the solar panels adorning the rooftops.  But inside each home was another eco-friendly innovation – efficiency.  Because these homes are meant to operate on the energy they can produce, keeping in the cool air in the summer and the warm air in the winter becomes a high priority, as does efficient appliances and (yes) energy efficient light bulbs.

Homes like the ones in the Solar Decathlon might not be for everyone – in an effort to stay within contest rules, many only had a single bedroom and only one of this year’s entrants had a garage – but the energy saving ideas can be used in homes across the country to reduce their overall energy consumption.  In California alone, there have been over $56 billion in savings for consumers since energy efficiency laws were enacted.

This presents two great opportunities for savings – improving energy efficiency saves on utility bills, and reducing our overall energy use saves land.

Conserving 1000 MW of electricity – about the output from one coal-fired power plant – can save more than 23,000 acres of land that would be used for mining, transmission lines, and other energy development.

In saving the land, we also save our air – coal power plants can emit over 600,000 tons of toxic chemicals like sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides that poison our air and pollute our streams.  It also cuts down on the climate-change causing carbon emissions, helping to protect wild landscapes from climate change as well as keeping the air and water clean.

Energy efficiency isn’t just for the houses of the future – it is also for the homes of today, and can protect wild places and consumers’ wallets.  That’s a victory that’s even bigger than a decathlon.


Portland Neola
P. L. Neola6 years ago

I enjoyed all the videos!

I like Team Belgium’s (Ghent University) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s easy kit home ideas that require few people to assemble. I also liked Team China’s (Tongji University) and the University of Maryland’s rain water recycling system ideas. And, Team New York’s (The City College of New York) had an excellent roof house idea that provides energy also for the host unit below, as well as to the grid.

What I enjoyed seeing the very most was Middlebury College’s and Purdue University’s vertical garden ideas. I actually like Middlebury College’s traditional look, because it is more to my taste! I loved the vertical kitchen garden idea, because I have been researching indoor gardening recently. So, this house was an example of what I am planning on doing in the near future.

All the teams did an excellent job on their projects!!! Unfortunately, the article did not mention the most popular design, but maybe that was the point. Every team introduced new, excellent ideas. So, maybe the designs were all very popular!

Thomas James Wilson

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Michael C.
Michael C6 years ago

Don L, Might I suggest that the next time you decide to write, try a subject that you actually know something about.

We have serviced systems with solar modules that are 30 years old and functioning at 90 % of their original power.

As for solar and wind being a blight or an eyesore, I suppose that you enjoy powerlines and cell phone towers. How long to you have to drive to be among these eyesores?

Your argument does not hold water but I suppose that you enjoy our continue involvement around the world in search of dead dinosaurs and future wars.

In closing, i hope your bosses at Big Oil, and the Nuclear lobby appreciate your work, as a disinformation minister.

cal shummon
cal Shummon6 years ago

as long as man utilises the scale in balance and not totally north or totally south,while combining Our imagination towards the greater good of all.
Everything is possible.

Judith Emerson
Judith Emerson6 years ago

Energy Efficiency Saves Our Planet! Especially when it's SUSTAINABLE ENERGY! :D :D :D :D :D

Don I.
Don I6 years ago

@Bruce S,
There has not been a solar panel, or wind turbine made that can produce electrical energy at a cost even close to what it's being produced by other forms of energy production. Even the best solar panels will only have a life span of between 13 and 20 years before they need to be replaced. When all of the solar panels start having to be replaced, what's going to happen with the old ones? If the government wants to build solar or wind farms to produce enough energy to service a large number of homes, those solar and wind farms are a blight and eye sore to the countryside, and ar dangerous to the wildlife living the the areas the farms are built in.

Ruth R.
Ruth R6 years ago

"Conserving 1000 MW of electricity – about the output from one coal-fired power plant – can save more than 23,000 acres of land that would be used for mining, transmission lines, and other energy development."

Read more:

Jessica Van Orman

great article!

Prochi T.
Prochi T6 years ago


Bruce S.
Bruce S6 years ago

They need to have more companies and factories that manufacture and sell solar panels for much less than they coast today. While prices have come way down from 10 years ago, if they were a little cheaper and there were more companies out there competing to install them, you would see them on many more houses. If I was young I would go into that business myself. With the cost of natural gas and oil today, it will pay for itself in no time.

Think of this, if you don't use all the electric that the panels produce, you get to sell it back to the electric company. Imagine getting a check FROM THEM!