College students around the country are completing 14 custom-designed solar-powered homes, and within a few days each house will be transported to the nation's capital for the U. S. Department of Energy's (DOE) first-ever Solar Decathlon. The Solar Decathlon is a team competition among universities to design and build the most energy-efficient solar-powered homes, being held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., from September 26 to October 5, 2002. To win the Solar Decathlon, a team must blend aesthetics and modern conveniences with maximum energy production and efficiency.

Sponsors of the Solar Decathlon, in addition to DOE, include BP Solar, The Home Depot, EDS, the American Institute of Architects (AIA) and DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL). Each house, limited to roughly 500 sq ft for purposes of the competition, will be judged on 10 criteria to determine which most efficiently employs solar energy for heating, cooling, hot water, lighting, appliances, computers and charging an electric car. The teams will compete in the 10 contests simultaneously.

A jury of world-renowned architects will evaluate the attractiveness, livability and effectiveness of each home's design, while experts from DOE and NREL will measure each home's energy production and use. The Solar Decathlon gives architecture and engineering students practical experience with the design and construction of solar powered, energy efficient buildings. DOE provided each team with a $5,000 stipend toward the construction of their solar house. The teams are raising the rest of the money they need to design, construct and transport the houses to Washington.