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Photo Gallery | PHOTOS: Solar Decathlon 2011

WASHINGTON (WUSA) -- If you happen to stroll past the FDR Memorial downtown, you might notice a change of scenery.

Energy efficient houses adorn the National Mall's lawn in preparation of the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon 2011.

The competition is designed to challenge college students from around the world to create and operate solar-powered houses.

"To compete against the best of the best in the world is really exciting," Team Maryland's architect Allison Wilson said.

Wilson has been with her team since conceptual design of the house in spring 2010. She says the Decathlon's overall goal is to make the public aware of affordable, clean energy products.

"I'm most passionate about our house because water is a critical issue- we all need it to survive," Wilson said. "Our house is entirely powered by the sun, but we also need to address the next pressing issue- those issues relating to water."

There are 19 buildings in the Decathlon, 4 of which are international. Building groups include Appalachian State, Canada, Florida International, Illinois, Maryland, Middlebury College, New Zealand, Ohio State, Parsons NS Stevens, Purdue, Sci-Arc/Caltech, Team Belgium, Team China and Team Florida, Team Massachusetts, Team New Jersey, Team New York, Tennessee and Tidewater Virginia.

Along with giving examples on going green, the Decathlon provides participating students hands-on experience and training for future career fields.

Manager of LEED Homes Technical Development at the U.S. Green Building Council, Asa Foss, says energy efficiency isn't costly and can actually be cost effective.

"Some of the best things you can do are design related, so that doesn't have to cost a lot of money," Foss said. "You can save up to 5% and it's co-oped times over."

Foss says the Green Building Council shares the same mission as Solar Decathlon in terms of educating people on being energy efficient and environmentally smart.

"The Decathlon is really focused on one of the major pieces which is the energy component, and we're excited that they're educating the population on what it takes to build an energy efficient building," Foss said.

The first Solar Decathlon was held in 2002. This year's will take place at West Potomac Park on Friday, Sept. 23-Oct. 2, 2011. The event is open to the public free of charge, and visitors can tour the houses and learn about energy-saving features for their homes.

"Today, these people are my competitors and tomorrow they're my colleagues in helping make this world a better place," Wilson said.

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