“Solar Olympics” coming to China

Could you live for one week in a house completely cut off from the water and electricity grids, relying only on solar power? A group of university students will accept this futuristic challenge. They must not only cater for the daily needs of three to six students in a 60 to 92-square metre dwelling, but also host a dinner for eight guests, not to mention running a TV, refrigerator, and other appliances. In 2013, 20 of these homes will be constructed in China.

This is the international Solar Decathlon, hailed as the "Olympic Games" of solar power. The contest involves assessment across 10 categories, from architectural design to energy conservation, with the winning team determined by the combined scores.

The global launch ceremony for the International Solar Decathlon, organised by Peking University and co-sponsored by the Chinese National Energy Administration and the US Department of Energy, took place at Peking University on the morning of April 28.

Since the contest was started in 2002 by the US Department of Energy, it has been held five times, on a biannual basis since 2005. The competition in China, the first in Asia, was the first Sino-US collaborative energy programme signed during president Hu Jintao’s 2011 state visit to the United States.

The competition will unfold in three consecutive stages: launch, recruitment and publicity, and the final contest itself, to be conducted in the summer of 2013 in participating Chinese cities.

The dean of the Peking University Graduate School and College of Engineering stated that eight students from the 2007 Santa Clara University team had founded a company, Valence Energy, based on their work for the competition, and enjoyed great success.

Wu Guihui, chief engineer of the National Energy Administration, said that holding the competition in China would benefit its global leadership in new energy technologies, and improve China’s competitiveness in the clean-energy sphere.

In March 2011, the "New Energy Industry Development Plan" estimated that China’s electricity generation capacity from new energy resources would reach 290 gigawatts by 2020, of which 20 gigawatts would come from solar power. China has already become the world’s largest producer of solar panels. But it still faces problems such as reliance on imports for raw materials, weakness in core technologies and bottlenecks in deployment.