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energy_efficient_house_sketch(MCT)–Plants grow on the roof. A device that looks like a crystalline sculpture sucks moisture from the air. And a sensor figures out when no one’s home, switching off the lights and air conditioning.

Welcome to Ecohabit, a two-bedroom house created by 60 students at Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J. They hope that its gee-whiz technology will help them win the U.S. Department of Energy’s biannual Solar Decathlon, which takes place this year from Oct. 3-13 in California. Twenty college teams, mostly from the U.S. but also from Europe and Canada, will compete.

The Stevens team also is hoping that the house, and the competition, will introduce builders and homeowners to efficient technology that goes beyond solar power. One of the features is a computerized system that monitors energy use and even the weather report.

“A lot of teams use this competition as a home showcase,” said Zak Moy, a 21-year-old recent Stevens graduate who worked on the two-year project. “We’re engineers, so we see this as a problem-solving competition.”

Under the rules of the competition, the house must be handicapped-accessible and solar-powered, and it must use products that are commercially available.

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