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October 17, 2009

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German uni team wins solar home competition

TEAM Germany won this year's United States solar home competition yesterday by skinning a single-roomed cube almost entirely with shiny black solar panels.

The 20 appliance-filled homes built by universities in the Solar Decathlon contest run by the US Department of Energy were designed to produce more power than they could use on sunny days.

The homes, which formed a temporary solar village on the National Mall, were judged by 10 criteria including market viability, comfort, and how well they captured the sun's energy to power refrigerators, dishwashers and clothes washers.

Team Germany, which consisted of 24 mostly architecture students from the technology university in Darmstadt, won by centering on the most important factor: maximizing power production.

"We won because we produced a lot of energy," said Sardika Meyer, a member of team Germany.

A "laser like" focus on maximizing power that could be sold back to the electricity grid helped Germany win the contest, which is held every two years, agreed Daniel Poneman, the deputy US energy secretary.

Darmstadt also won in 2007.

The German team built this year's cube, which featured separate living zones including a loft, to the maximum dimensions allowable and completely covered it in solar panels -- 250 thin film copper gallium diselenide panels on the sides -- and 40 silicon ones on the roof.

Cornell University's team, which built a home of rust-colored steel silos that only featured solar panels on the roof, dubbed the German home the "big black monolith."

The Department of Energy holds the contest to find ways to reduce the cost of solar-powered homes. The teams are sponsored by companies.

Germany has led the world in overall solar power production for years. The US, aided by a far sunnier climate especially in the Southwest, could overtake Germany this year, analysts said.

Meyer said many of the materials used in her team's home could be used by the general public.

Next June, Europe will hold its first solar decathlon in Madrid. "We're looking forward to that one," said Meyer.


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