As anticipation builds for the 2013 edition of the U.S. Department of Energy’s biennial sun-powered home design/build showdown, over 6,000 miles away from the U.S. Solar Decathlon's new (temporary?) home at Orange Country Great Park in Irvine, Calif. the countdown is also very much on for the Aug. 2 kick-off of the inaugural Solar Decathlon China in Datong, Shanxi province.

Winning the bid over nine other potential host cities following the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. and China in Jan. 2011, Datong, “The City of Coal," is no doubt a provocative — and rather smart — setting for the Peking University-organized spin-off of the original Solar Decathlon which has also birthed a European counterpart, the Solar Decathlon Europe, held in 2010 and 2012 in Madrid.

Long serving as China's coal capital, historic Datong is widely considered as one of the most polluted cities in the entire world, a soot-smeared metropolis of over 3 million located an environmentally damaged northern province where, as described by the New York Times, air quality monitors are frequently on red alert and where residents, when not forced to stay indoors, have to drive with their lights on during the daylight hours. It's a city where SD China's cheery motto of "Brighten the Future, Harmonize the World" really means something. 

As part of the bid proposal, Datong officials apparently promised to build an entire "renewable energy theme park" around the Solar Decathlon village and offered to purchase some of the student-built homes to be on permanent display within the park after the conclusion of the event. Further info on the proposed theme park and the actually decathlon village are non-existent as far as I can tell on the official SD China website.

Explained Zhou Qifeng, the president of Peking University, in a 2011 press release published prior to Datong being selected as the host city:

In recent years, China’s new energy industry has made considerable progress in the field. The government’s strong encouragement and support for environment-friendly solutions have encouraged an increase in academic research and commercial deployment, spurring industry growth for new energy technologies. The Solar Decathlon China program will advance the level of technology development and application.
While both the U.S. Solar Decathlon and the Solar Decathlon Europe are thoroughly international in scope, the Solar Decathlon China manages to turn the diversity aspect up a notch:  22 teams hailing from 35 universities spanning 13 countries on 6 continents are descending on Datong to build and test their homes as part of the competition. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, Florida International University, and New York’s Alfred University and Alfred State University are all repping the U.S. as part of Chinese/American mash-up teams while Worcester Polytechnic Institute and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University are collaborating with Belgium’s Gent University. Teams hailing from Australia, Egypt, Singapore, Malaysia, Iran, Israel, the U.K., Sweden, and Turkey are also participating in addition to a sizable number of homegrown Chinese teams from across the country.

As for format and rules of the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Energy Administration of China co-hosted competition, it's pretty much identical to past Solar Decathlons:

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon (SD) is an award-winning program that challenges collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient and attractive. The resulting homes demonstrate to students, the public and industry, that solar-powered houses are fully functional, comfortable and sustainable living spaces. SD aims to promote collaboration in the solar industry and to facilitate innovation and adoption of solar energy and energy-efficiency technologies.

During the competition, the energy consumed by each house is generated by solar energy solutions. The competition will assess the team’s ability to conserve energy, control their physical environment and ability to be fully energy sufficient. Modeled after the Olympic decathlon competition, each home will be evaluated on their performance in ten contests.

Since the launch of the Solar Decathlon in 2002, six subsequent competitions have been hosted in the U.S. and Europe, involving over 100 collegiate teams. The competition demonstrates innovation in the solar industry’s innovation and identifies immediately viable technologies.

Below, you’ll find the full line-up of SD China contenders currently gearing up to duke it out in Datong in just a couple of weeks. I’ve provided video walk-through and intro videos for just a few of the competiting homes as I wasn't able to wrangle up embeddable videos for them all, particularly the Chinese teams. Click here for team intro videos that I wasn't able to embed.

Take a look-see and let me know what you think in the comments section. There’s some truly intriguing and innovative designs among the bunch — I have my eyes set on Team Israel’s I4E House (pictured up top), Team Sweden’s Halo House, and Etho from Peking University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Any early favorites or teams that you’ll be rooting for?

And stay tuned ... I’ll check in again with the Solar Decathlon China once a winner is named. In the coming weeks I’ll also start previewing a selection of U.S. Solar Decathlon homes prior to that event's kick off date of Oct. 3. Best of luck to all the competing SD China teams in these crucial days leading up to the big event!

Singapore: Team NUS (National University of Singapore) — Solar House


Israel: Team Israel (Tel Aviv University, Shenkar College of Engineering and Design, Neri Bloomfield School of Design and Education, College of Management Academic Studies) — I4E House

Sweden: Team Sweden (Chalmers University of Technology, Gothenburg) — Halo


China/U.S.: Team NJHA (New Jersey Institute of Technology, Harbin Institute of Technology) — Nexus House


Belgium/U.S.: Team BEMANY (Polytechnic Institute of New York University, Ghent University, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute) — Solatrium 


Australia: Team UOW (University of Wollongong) —The Illawarra Flame|Australia


China/U.S.: Team Alfred and Guilin (Alfred State College, Alfred University, and Guilin University of Technology) — Alfred-Guilin Solar House


Egypt: Team AUC (American University of Cairo) — Slide-S


Turkey: Team Turkey (Middle East Technical University) — eCOurt 


• China: Team SEU (Southeast University) —SEU House

• China: Team Xiamen University Sunny Inside

• China: TEAM XAUAT (Xi'an University of Architecture and Technology) —Team XAUAT Home

• China: Team SJU (Shandong Guangzhou University) SJU Solar House

• China: Team SJTU ( Shanghai Jiaotong University) River Sunvelop

China: Team SCUT (South China University of Technology and Huazhong University of Science and Technology) —E-Concave

• China/Switzerland: Team BJTU (Beijing Jiaotong University, Bern University of Applied Sciences) —iYARD

• China: Team Green Sun (Inner Mongolia University of Technology) — Genbu

• China/Iran: Iran-SUES (Abbaspour University of Technology, Shanghai University of Engineering Science) — Shāremān

• China/U.K.: Team Heliomat (London Metropolitan University, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts) — SunBloc House

• China/U.S.: Team THFI (Tsinghua University and Florida International University) O-House

• China/U.S.: Team PKU-UIUC (Peking University, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign) Etho

• Malaysia: Team UTM (Universiti Teknologi Malaysia) UTM Solar House

Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

Solar Decathlon China: Meet the teams
Here's a look at the 22 collegiate teams vying to build the best solar-powered abode as part of the inaugural Solar Decathlon China.