Three Cool Solar Power Competitions That Could Change Our World

It seems that we are finding a new use for solar power everyday.  Whether it’s grid-tie applications*, lighting*, or backup power*, solar is rapidly becoming our green energy alternative of choice.  Solar is rapidly evolving as the technology and applications for it are changing daily.  In this light, here are 3 great contests that are stretching the limits of what solar can be used for and may just change the way we use energy in our everyday lives.

1.  The American Solar Challenge

What Is It?

It’s a cross-country race held annually with futuristic cars powered exclusively by the sun.  Dozens of university teams from the United States, Canada, and Europe design and build their own solar cars.

What does it involve?

Teams have to build cars using the absolute lightest materials available.  They also have to engineer the power systems that will collect energy from the sun, store it, and transfer it to the drive mechanism.  All of this must be done in the most efficient way possible so that the car can travel the course safely and in the shortest amount of time.  The University of Michigan won this year’s event that stretched from Kansas to Chicago.

How will it help us?

Transportation consumes about 40% of our energy resources now.  Electric cars have taken huge leaps in the last few years and can reduce our dependency on carbon fuels if they can be charged using renewable energy.  But the technology needs to make huge advances to really make an impact.  Changing the way we use materials in vehicles, storing power efficiently, and harnessing solar power will be essential if electric cars are going to help solve our energy and climate crisis.

Read more here: American Solar Challenge

2.  The Solar Decathlon

What is it?

A contest sponsored by the US Department of Energy to create the most energy efficient homes in the world.  Teams from American, Canadian, and European universities design, build, and then transport a home to the Washington Mall to be judged by industry and government experts.

What does it involve?

The homes are judged on 10 separate factors:  Architecture, Market Viability, Engineering, Lighting Design, Communications, Comfort Zone, Hot Water, Appliances, Home Entertainment, and Net Metering.  The challenge to balance energy needs, comfort, and aesthetics while making a home that could actually sell in the market.  The team from Germany won the event in 2009 and won major points by incorporating solar panels into the exterior shell of the home.

How will it help us?

In order for us to change the way we use energy, we have to change the way we live.  The best way to do this of course, is to change the way we build our homes.  We can have beautiful, comfortable homes that actually produce as much energy as they use.  Contests like this challenge the brightest minds to redefine the spaces we live in.

Read more here: Solar Decathlon

3.  Solar For All Design Contest

What is it?

A contest to develop effective and affordable off-grid solar solutions.  The contest is geared more toward finding power solutions for the developing world where electricity is often unreliable or nonexistent.  The prize is an investment from Deutsche Bank Americas Foundation of $250,000.

What does it involve?

Contestants from 58 organizations and 29 countries enter solar inventions that address lighting, home systems, mini-grid, and hybrid solar-wind systems that can help low-income communities.  The winner this year, Greenlight Planet, developed a way for everyday Indian citizens to afford and install their own home solar system.

How will it help us?

Worldwide about 1.7 billion people live without electricity.  Bringing electricity to these people can mean improved health, communications, education, and quality of life for millions.  It also means that fewer communities will be exposed to the environmental and health risks that are posed by traditional means of power, which include kerosene lanterns and diesel generators.

Read more here: Solar For All

Kriss Bergethon is a writer and solar expert from Colorado.  Fore more information visit his Solar Power site.

Interested in solar power for your home? Check out our current listings of solar panels, grid-tied systems, and solar heating.

*Links to pages in sustainablog’s Green Choices product comparison engine.

  1. Brenda

    This is great! I must say, the governmet…no not the government, but the world should open their eyes and see the great benefit of using solar energy. I have an off-grid solar energy home and i must say i feel very happy about it. I dont think im hurting mother earth plus im saving so much money.

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