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Energy Dept. Warms Up To Solar

There's plenty of debate about what the government's role should be in developing alternative energy sources. Ethanol, for one, has benefited from years of subsidies. The Dept. of Energy's Solar America Initiative has a goal of making solar energy cost-competitive with conventional forms of electricity by 2015. The solar initiative is part of the President's Advanced Energy Initiate

Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman recently told CNBC's Melissa Francis that "we have a credible research program that will lead to that result..., and help wean the U.S. off of fossil fuels.

Under the program. the DOE partners with private companies, universities and other groups to develop new devices, processes and systems. So far some $159 million has been given DOE partners. Future funding is estimated at $200 million, but will require congressional approval.

On a more literal level, the DOE has been sponsoring Solar Decathlons, the third of which took place over nine days in October on the National Mall in October.

Teams from 20 universities compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house. Teams are judged in ten categories, including architecture, engineering and power generation for space heating and cooling, water heating, and powering lights and appliances. The homes are zero-energy, yield zero carbon

The houses are built on the university campuses, disassembled, then reassemble on the Mall. The event has been known to drag big crowds to what's called the "solar village."

This year's winner -- Technische Universität Darmstadt of Germany -- beat out the University of Maryland and Santa Clara University.