The 18 teams competing in the 2005 Solar Decathlon include universities from the United States, Canada, Spain and Puerto Rico that have been working on designs, raising funds and testing homes for two years.
The teams will be judged on architecture, livability, comfort, power generation for space heating and cooling, water heating, and powering lights and appliances.
The solar-powered homes must also produce enough extra power to charge up an electric car.
"Although the homes may seem fun and futuristic, the materials they use are available to anyone," Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman said in a statement. "They demonstrate that we can have homes today that use less energy without giving up any of the comforts we now enjoy."
Some of the novel designs include these examples cited by the Department of Energy:
- University of Colorado: Its house uses natural materials, including insulation made of cellulose waste and soy foam. Other construction materials include wheat, corn, flax, sunflower, canola, coconut and coffee.
- University of Madrid: Named the "Magic Box," its house has movable interior walls, allowing for living space to change to suit daily needs.
- New York Institute of Technology: Its "Green Machine/Blue Space" is unique in that it uses a fuel cell and hydrogen to store and then use the sun's energy. Electricity from a rooftop photovoltaic system separates hydrogen from water through electrolysis, and then runs the fuel cell on that hydrogen.
- Florida International University: Its house has windows and doors designed to withstand hurricane-force winds.
Through Oct. 16, the solar village is open for house tours weekdays from 11 a.m.-4 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m.-6 p.m. except for Oct. 12, when the houses will be closed for judging purposes.
Background on the Solar Decathlon is online at www.solardecathlon.org.