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  • The full-sized mock-up of the SCI-Arc/Caltech Solar Decathlon house.
04/01/2011 07:00:00

Solar Decathlon Team Breaks Ground

The joint Solar Decathlon team of Caltech and the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc) will show off their state-of-the-art, energy-efficient house tomorrow in a groundbreaking ceremony at 2 p.m. at the SCI-Arc campus in Los Angeles. After a year of designing and prototyping, the team will start construction on the house, which will travel to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., this fall for the biennial competition. At the ceremony, the team will raise the first wall.

Student team members will also give tours of a full-sized mock-up of the house and talk about its many engineering and design features. At 3 p.m., Eric Owen Moss, the director of SCI-Arc, and Harry Atwater, Caltech's Howard Hughes Professor and professor of applied physics and materials science and director of the Resnick Institute, will also speak. All are welcome and refreshments will be served.

The Solar Decathlon is a competition sponsored by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in which 20 teams from around the world are selected to design and build the most energy-efficient, affordable, and attractive house they can. Taking place on the National Mall, the Solar Decathlon is a high-profile event that's intended to inspire policymakers, industry leaders, and the public to pursue a sustainable future with cutting-edge design and technology.

Somewhat resembling a giant white pillow, the SCI-Arc/Caltech house features a unique shape and a soft, exterior insulation. As the only two-story building in the competition, the house has a spacious interior, despite an area of only about 800 square feet (contest rules limit the area to between 600 and 1,000 square feet). A central computer controls everything from heating to lighting, optimizing energy use. For example, waste heat from the air-conditioning unit is used to provide hot water. Connected to the Internet, the house can even receive weather-forecast data, allowing it to anticipate cloudy skies and conserve the power generated by its solar panels. To learn more about these and other features of the house, you can attend the groundbreaking ceremony at

SCI-Arc Campus
Solar Decathlon Construction Site
350 Merrick Street
Los Angeles, CA 90013

If you would also like to help the team's outreach efforts—one of the 10 challenges on which the team will be judged—you can visit its Facebook page and click "like."

Written by Marcus Woo