Campus & Community

Stevens Team Completes Solar Decathlon with Two First-Place Wins

Two years of planning, four months of construction and two weeks of competition were capped off this weekend when the Empowerhouse team finished 13th out of 19 teams in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon in Washington’s West Potomac Park. The 2011 Solar Decathlon was the first time Stevens had competed in the international, biennial competition.

Teams were judged across a series of 10 contests to gauge how well the houses perform and how livable and affordable they are. The Empowerhouse team, consisting of students from Stevens Institute of Technology, Parsons The New School for Design and the Milano School of International Affairs, Management and Urban Policy at The New School, accumulated 828.816 out of a possible 1,000 points during the course of the competition, including a first-place tie in two key categories; affordability and hot water. Overall, the team placed top ten in 7 competitions.

The Empowerhouse had an estimated total cost of less than $230,000, which covered construction and design. This budget – nearly one-fourth the cost of previous Solar Decathlon entries – helped earn first place for the Empowerhouse team in the affordability contest.

“The students put forth an impressive display of talent and innovation in a very competitive showing for the school’s first-ever entry into the Solar Decathlon.  Together with their teammates from Parsons and Milano, the Stevens students thoroughly enjoyed meeting the throngs of visitors this week and proudly showing off the end result of their hard work,” said Dr. Michael Bruno, Dean of the Charles V. Schaefer Jr. School of Engineering and Science at Stevens.

The Empowerhouse competition home features “net zero” systems (producing all of their energy needs and adheres to Passive House principles, which is today’s highest energy standard. It will consume 90 percent less energy for heating and cooling than a typical home

The team finished behind a cluster of four teams that separated it by less than eight points from tenth-placed Canada. Over 50 points divided the Empowerhouse team from 14th-placed Tidewater Virginia.

The University of Maryland’s “Watershed” house took top honors at the competition with 951 points, 20 points higher than second-place Purdue. The University of Maryland is a veteran of the Solar Decathlon, having competed in three previous contests including a second-place finish in 2007. 

Team New Zealand finished third overall, followed by Middlebury College and Ohio State to round out the top five.

At the conclusion of the contest, the Empowerhouse competition home will be placed in storage while it awaits construction of its ajoining house in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C., to eventually be home to Ms. Lakiya Culley, a 29 year-old administrative assistant for the U.S. State Department and her three sons – CJ (5); Christopher (4); and Camari (5 mos.). 

Another D.C.-based family will move to the second home through a partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Washington, D.C. and the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.

“Throughout the competition, the students pushed themselves to create an inspiring home that will have a lasting impact on the way we design energy efficient, sustainable and affordable housing.  The Solar Decathlon competition is an example of the type of government, industry, academia partnership that can lead to the solution of our society’s most pressing problems; solutions that can proceed rapidly – even immediately – to the marketplace," said Dr. Bruno.

To learn more about Empowerhouse, please visit the team's website at and the Steven's Solar Decathlon site.