Students' solar-run home goes to D.C.

September 30, 2005

RIVERDALE -- The one-bedroom house comes with all the amenities of a modern home - a surround-sound system, a flat-screen television, wood cabinets in the kitchen, cedar shutters on the windows and heat that rises from the floor.

But the small structure built by University of Maryland students over two years in a parking lot near campus is different from most homes in one big way: All of the appliances, heat, air-conditioning and lights are powered by solar energy. And the comforts of home have not been sacrificed for the sake of energy efficiency.

"It's a pretty luxurious setup," said Najahyia Chinchilla, assistant project manager for the house, which is the university's entry into the 2005 Solar Decathlon in Washington.

For the next several weeks, part of the National Mall will be converted into a small village of solar-powered homes. Eighteen university teams will compete in the contest, sponsored by the Energy Department.

Each house must be entirely run by solar energy, captured by broad arrays of solar panels mounted on the roof. That energy must run everything in the house and even provide enough power for an electric car. Entries will also be judged in categories such as architecture, accessibility and comfort.

This is the second Solar Decathlon. In the first, Maryland's entry placed fourth overall.

The homes arrayed on the Mall are open to the public from Oct. 7 to Oct. 16, with a winner expected to be announced Oct. 14.

The University of Maryland students' house, about the size of a trailer, has large wooden supports that curve across the front, a frame that will eventually carry 51 solar panels. Chincilla estimates that materials for the house cost about $200,000.

After the competition, the Maryland home is scheduled to go to the Red Wiggler Community Farm, a Germantown facility that teaches farming to people with developmental disabilities.

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