solar decathlon expo 2020
From October 20 to November 21, 2021, the Solar Decathlon Middle East will scale through 10 projects in conjunction with Expo 2020 Dubai Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Sustainable, innovative and futuristic are words that have become synonymous with Expo 2020 Dubai. From the high-end coffee-serving robots to the 3D-printed statue that perfectly mimics the iconic work of Michelangelo, the world fair is a fertile ground for the most creative and pioneering ideas relevant to our current climate. Perhaps that's why it's the perfect site for Dubai Electricity and Water Authority's (Dewa) second Solar Decathlon Middle East (SDME) competition in October.

University students participating in the competition will be tapping into one of the UAE's naturally rich resources, sunshine, and using it to design, construct and operate homes that will run on clean solar energy.

Solar Decathlon Middle East 2021

SDME will run during Expo 2020 Dubai from October 20 to November 21, 2021. The Dewa Pavilion will display models of the houses engineered by 10 international and local university teams. Winners of the 2018 edition, Virginia Tech Team, will erect their energy-efficient house right next to the pavilion, too. Curious visitors will also have the chance to view the actual prototypes of the current edition in the Solar Hai area of Dubai's Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park – the world’s largest single-site solar park.

The Solar Decathlon is organised under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan Bin Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of Dubai Executive Council, The Dubai Supreme Council of Energy, Dewa and the US Department of Energy. (Dewa is the official the sustainable energy partner for Expo.)

UAE-based and international university students specialising in engineering and architecture have joined hands to create affordable, liveable and energy-efficient houses. In the true spirit of a decathlon, the houses will undergo 10 different contests across a spectrum of house-building requirements: energy management, engineering and construction, architecture, sustainability, mobility, house functioning, communication, energy efficiency, innovation and comfort conditions.

Hailing from Canada to Morocco, here are the 10 teams participating in the SDME this year:

  1. Team KU of Khalifa University, UAE
  2. Team Sharjah of University of Sharjah, UAE
  3. Team Desert Phoenix of University of Louisville (USA), Higher Colleges of Technology, American University in Dubai and American University in Sharjah
  4. Team Harmony of The British University in Dubai
  5. Team Esteem of Heriot-Watt University, UK
  6. Team Tawazun of Manipal Academy of Higher Education Dubai Campus
  7. Team Go Smart of University of Bahrain
  8. Team SCUTxCSCEC of South China University of Technology, China
  9. Team Oasis, American University in Cairo, Egypt
  10. Team Infinity House, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, Canada

Participants will have the opportunity to win prizes totalling Dh10 million. In line with Dewa and the World Expo’s mutual goals, the SDME 2021 is focused on highlighting seven pillars that each team will present through their houses – sustainability, future, innovation, clean energy, mobility, smart solutions and happiness.

Gulf News spoke to some of these young innovators about their futuristic homes and their thoughts on being part of Expo 2020 Dubai. Here's what they had to say: 

Team Sharjah

Students of The University of Sharjah are gearing up to showcase their house called SHARE, which stands for Sustainable Habitat for Adaptive Regeneration of the Environment. Their approach to the competition revolves around inclusivity and sharing. The team sees this model as the future of housing, where cooperation between humans and machines will allow all aspects of living – daily routine, work and rest – to co-exist under the same roof in an adaptable and functional building.

team sharjah_solar decathlon expo 2020 dubai
A render of Team Sharjah's solar house Image Credit: Supplied

Riyadh Fernini, a team member of Team Sharjah, said: “The house we have designed is sought to become the new standard for construction and technology. It spurs the dynamic need or awareness for the occupant to recreate and reuse their surroundings more efficiently.”

Team Sharjah’s unique house is shaped like a 'box within a box', as the inner volume functions to maximise energy conservation and the outer second skin provides shade to the internal spaces. The shape and orientation of the building also allows for night cooling and ventilation as it harvests the desert breeze for cross-ventilation. Among its distinctive features, the house includes a solar-tracking shading system, energy-zero water heating using PVT (photovoltaics and solar thermal) modules, and the ability to generate drinkable water from atmospheric humidity.

team sharjah_solar decathlon expo 2020
Called SHARE for Sustainable Habitat for Adaptive Regeneration of the Environment, the house has a dynamic outer fence that can open and close to either shade or invite. Image Credit: Supplied

Fatima Humaid Alsuwaidi, another member of Team Sharjah, said: “We are honoured to have the opportunity of being featured in one of the largest global platforms, Expo 2020 Dubai. We hope that our project will inspire those visiting in furthering their knowledge in the importance of creating a sustainable living space.”


Team Esteem from Herriot-Watt University, Edinburgh is the only UK-based university to compete in the Solar Decathlon. Their team has more than 120 students, all contributing towards the project in different departments ranging from sponsorships to construction.

esteem_solar decathlon expo 2020
Team Esteem strike a pose in front of their prototype Image Credit: Supplied

Vishnu Kaushik, the Alexa lead at Team Esteem, said: “The Team ESTEEM house is the cornerstone in terms of futuristic, sustainable, innovative house. With its inclusion of carbon reducing materials [and] inclusions of smart technology, this is a house that will set the standard for how our homes will be in the future.”

The Team Esteem house is powered solely with solar energy and is made from sustainable Scottish timber panels, also referred as cross-laminated timber (CLT) - a kind of eco-friendly engineered wood that requires gluing together layers of solid-sawn lumber and is a relatively light building material.

esteem_solar decathlon expo 2020
A render of the Team Esteem house Image Credit: Supplied

The house consists of other technologies including Artificial intelligence (AI) integration, a 3D-printed concrete wind catcher, and bricks made entirely from waste products. Keeping in mind the desert climate, the team designed a strategy to optimise cooling inside the house using an elevated sloped roof, and opening windows and shades around the house.

esteem_solar decathlon expo 2020 dubai
A Team Esteem member at work on the solar-powered house Image Credit: Supplied

Jairis Alvarez, head of marketing, PR and events, said: “Having this opportunity to showcase our project and being part of Expo 2020 Dubai is just a wonderful experience and something I never thought I would have the chance to do. I feel this is a unique opportunity not only to network but also to be in Dubai for the first time.”

The prefabricated home will be shipped from Edinburgh and assembled in the emirate in November 2021.

What is a prefabricated house?
Prefabricated (or pre-fab) buildings are made in sections beforehand. The different parts of the house can be easily carried and shipped and then assembled on site. The houses at the Solar Decathlon are pre-fabricated houses.

Team Harmony

The British University in Dubai is presenting Team Harmony’s house this coming November, and its team comprises of students, alumni and faculty. Inspired by the Emirati culture and architecture, Team Harmony’s vision for their house is to create a marriage of traditional and modern UAE. They incorporated the concept of the multifunctional Bedouin tent to create a working and living space, a ‘Barjeel’ (wind tower) and an artistic touch of Arabic calligraphy, which quotes Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan on the golden facade.

team harmony_solar decathlon expo 2020 dubai
A render of Team Harmony's house Image Credit: Supplied

Nesrine Oussadou, the team leader of the project, said: “We interviewed several local artists and architects through-out the design and concept process to get a full understanding of what makes the Emirati architecture unique and how it has evolved throughout history.”

The house is almost a 100 per cent made out of recyclable materials using old prefabricated modules and recycled wooden materials. The photovoltaic (or solar) panels and double layer of the external skin of the house all function to reach their target of creating a net-zero energy house. It also features a vegetation screen, which will be used to grow food and a smart farm that includes a selection of herbs, fruits and vegetables. They also intend to showcase contemporary crafts by women from across the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region and refugee-made products in their effort to advocate for humanitarian causes.

Oussadou added: “We believe that the future of building in a sustainable manner is key for responsible harvesting of the natural resources. Also, designing with a human-centric perspective is significant for utilising the latest technologies to improve human health and well-being. Expo 2020 Dubai is the greatest opportunity to unfold these values.”

DEWA Pavilion to stage future-ready green projects

At the Expo site, Dewa's very own pavilion will be dedicated to all its upcoming projects and events, specifically in renewable and clean energy sector. In addition to the models of the SDME houses, the pavilion will showcase a model of its new headquarters, ‘Al Shera’a’ (Arabic for sail), set to be the world’s tallest, largest and smartest government zero-energy building. It also plans to introduce the Green Hydrogen project, implemented by Dewa, Expo and Siemens Energy at the outdoor testing facilities of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park. The project is the first in the Mena region to produce hydrogen using solar power.

The World Green Economy Organisation (WGEO) will have a special stand at the Dewa Pavilion to enhance the transition to a green economy and support other entities in implementing their green strategies and plans. Additionally, Dewa will feature its Space-D programme, which underscores the launch of the main satellite equipped with the latest technology and is set to train Emirati professionals to use space technologies to enhance its electricity and water networks.

- The writer is an intern with Gulf News.