The challenge – to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive. The results are in.  The University of Maryland has won the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon for 2011.  Team Maryland, a runner-up back in 2007, took the top spot with WaterShed, a concept home using water and energy efficiency solutions in addition to solar design, inspired by the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem.

Collegiate teams spend almost two years creating houses to compete in the Solar Decathlon. The winning team produces a house that meets several criteria.  The home should be affordable, attractive, and easy to live in, maintains comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions, supplies energy to household appliances for cooking, cleaning, and entertainment, provides adequate hot water and most importantly, produces as much or more energy than it consumes.

WaterShed’s award winning home  featured a holistic approach to water conservation, recycling, and storm water management as well as innovations to foster the sustainable lifestyle. Key elements includes:

  • A modular constructed wetland that helps filter and recycle greywater from the shower, clothes washer, and dishwasher
  • A green roof that slows rainwater runoff to the landscape while improving the house’s energy efficiency
  • A garden, an edible wall system, and a composting station to illustrate the potential for improved health, energy, and cost savings with a complete carbon cycle program
  • The liquid desiccant waterfall, which serves as a design feature and provides humidity control
  • An engineering system that harnesses excess energy generated by the solar thermal array
  • A home automation system that monitors and adjusts temperature, humidity, lighting, and other parameters to provide maximum function with minimal impact on the environment.

Their plan also contains a menu and recipes for dinner parties and a midnight snack menu with locally harvested, seasonal ingredients from the Watershed’s edible garden or local purveyors.

You can check out a video walk through of the University of Maryland’s Solar Decathlon house.

This year’s competition had University of Maryland with 951 out of a possible 1,000 points, followed by Purdue with 931 points. New Zealand‘s First Light, Middlebury College’s Self Reliance  and Ohio State’s enCore entries rounded out the top five.