Perhaps it is fitting that two teams from the Asia-Pacific reigned in the first Solar Decathlon ever held in Asia. The University of Wollongong from Australia and the South China University of Technology came first and second, respectively, beating 19 teams from nine countries.
Photo © Architectural Record
Sweden's Chalmers University of Technology received third place for its house.

Out of the 10 judging categories, the two teams ranked first in seven of them, including architecture, engineering, solar application, energy balance, market appeal, home entertainment, and appliances. Chalmers University of Technology from Sweden received third place. The intercollegiate competition, which promotes innovative, energy-efficient, solar-powered residential designs, was hosted in Datong in northern China by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), National Energy Administration of China (the DOE’s Chinese counterpart), and Peking University.

The two winning teams designed houses with front patios that flow seamlessly from the living rooms and organic backyard gardens. Both sourced local and up-cycled materials to minimize embodied energy and adopted a modular design to expedite the construction process.

But this is where the similarities end. Aided by complex computer modeling, the Australian team pioneered the use of second-generation, poly-crystalline photovoltaic panels, compliments of their sponsor BlueScope Steel, to fashion a dual system that maximizes solar power generation efficiency. The house is not only a retrofit of an existing structure (a first in the solar decathlon), but also a dramatic turnaround for an energy-guzzling housing type prevalent in Australia that uses fiber cement sheets for construction. The team incorporated off-the-shelf systems and indigenous solutions and the result was what the architecture jurors called “modest and humble, yet innovative.”

The Chinese team used low-cost native building materials, namely bamboo and sugarcane, on its 775-square-foot house—one of the smaller entries. The exterior, interior, and furnishings were all finished in bamboo. Discarded sugarcane fiber was pressed into service as wall insulation. A reflecting pool surrounding the house keeps it cool.

Held in China’s Coal Capital, the decathlon drew nearly 200,000 visitors during its 12-day run. “The opportunity for public education was tremendous,” says Richard King of the DOE. The next Solar Decathlon is scheduled for October 3-13, 2013, in Irvine, California.