In one of the more interesting projects I’m tracking, a group of New Zealand students is preparing to build an eco-friendly Kiwi bach on the National Mall in Washington, DC.  Really. They’ve got their plot all picked out, and the blueprints are looking good.

Dubbed FirstLight, the team is composed of students from Victoria University of Wellington’s School of Architecture and Design who are participating in next year’s Solar Decathlon.

Sponsored by the U.S Department of Energy, the Solar Decathlon has been held in DC every two years since 2002. Entrants from around the world design energy-efficient, eco-friendly houses, and the 20 teams with the best proposals are invited to actually build their structures on the Mall, within sight of the iconic Lincoln, Washington, and Jefferson Memorials. The event attracts immense attention, and the most recent prior competition drew more than 300,000 visitors to the eco-village on the Mall as well as tens of millions of online viewers.

Aerial view of the last Solar Decathlon village on the Mall, with the Washington Monument in the background.

Aerial view of the last Solar Decathlon village on the Mall, with the Washington Monument in the background.

Per the Department of Energy’s rules, each house must be fully functional and must showcase “inventive clean-energy solutions by building solar-powered houses that feature cost-effective, energy-efficient construction and incorporate energy-saving appliances and renewable energy systems.” Judging is based on 10 distinct contests (ergo, the “decathlon”): architecture, market appeal, engineering, communications, affordability, comfort, hot water, appliances, home entertainment, and energy balance.

A digital rendering of the exterior of the First Light house.

Digital rendering of the exterior of the FirstLight house.

That’s a tough — but crucial — set of challenges.  Given the climate change and sustainability issues we face, there is no better focus for fresh thinking and student imagination than the search for viable, economical, and renewable clean-energy solutions.

Digital rendering of the central living area in the First Light house.

Digital rendering of the central living area in the FirstLight house.

It’s a big achievement for FirstLight to place among the 20 finalists in the current competition.  FirstLight is further notable as one of only four finalists from outside the U.S., and as the first New Zealand team ever to participate.

I have been greatly impressed with the talent and enthusiasm that FirstLight brings to the table. I understand that the enterprise has been a strong team effort — as most successful endeavors are — and I wish the group the very best as they continue their work. I look forward to checking back with them again soon to see how things are going.

First Lighters (from left): Nick Officer, Ben Jagersma, Anna Farrow, and Eli Nuttall.

Our FirstLight video bloggers (from left): Nick Officer, Ben Jagersma, Anna Farrow, and Eli Nuttall.

We have arranged for Nick, Ben, Anna, and Eli to send me regular video updates such as the one at the top of this post, including while they are in Washington. I will share those with you here on my blog as the team works toward final construction on the Mall next September.

So stay tuned …