WASHINGTON The global energy sector is gaining momentum, and the practical application of new solar energy technologies was on full display on the National Mall in early October during the biennial Solar Decathlon sponsored by the U.S. Energy Department and a raft of supporting companies like Applied Materials Inc.
The Solar Decathlon pits 20 university teams from the Canada, Europe and the U.S. in contest to design the most energy efficient solar house. Among the ten categories are engineering, lighting, appliances and, most important, "net metering," a measure of how much net energy a house produces or consumes over the course of the competition.
(I was scolded by one contestant for opening a refrigerator door: It was hurt his team's net metering result.)
A team from Germany won the overall competition for the second time, followed by teams from the University of Illinois and Santa Clara State and the California College of the Arts. See full results here.
The heated solar competition was staged as goverment and industy ramp up a handful of new energy initiative. The Obama administration announced $3.4 billion in smart grid grants on Tuesday (Oct. 27).
Meanwhile, the Energy Department's new R&D office, the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy, also announced $151 million in funding this week for "transformational energy research projects." The projects will explore low-cost LED lighting, "liquid metal grid-scale batteries," bacteria for producing solar biofuels and CO2 capture using artificial enzymes.
If the energy of the engineering students at this year's Solar Decathlon is any indication, the alternative energy field is poised to take off.
See our Solar Decathlon slideshow here.