The world’s first Solar Decathlon was held in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall, our nation’s front yard, in 2002. Since 2005 the competition, which invites university teams from around the world to design tomorrow’s solar homes—today, has been held biennially on the mall. It’s also inspired Europe and China to hold their own Solar Decathlons, based on the Department of Energy’s model. Now the U.S. Solar Decathlon is taking its first road trip, landing in Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif. The 20 competing teams have about six months until they will cross the country with their homes in tow, ready to be built onsite, for the public’s purview starting Oct. 3.
The move from the National Mall has been controversial. The 2011 Solar Decathlon was almost moved from its prominent spot on the mall—which traditionally was amid the Smithsonian museums and in purview of Capitol and even the White House—to a more obscure part of the mall, closer to the reflecting pool and the Jefferson, Roosevelt and Martin Luther King, Jr., memorials. The National Park Service claimed they had to move the event, which had drawn tens of thousands of visitors to the mall and puts tons of homes and heavy equipment on the already tattered and overused lawn, as part of the recovery plan.
Moving it to a side-lawn made it harder for visitors to access, as well as for members of Congress and other officials to visit it. The Solar Decathlon was one of the most prominent displays of the power of solar that Congress could see from their workspace. Now that its moving across the country, Senators and Republicans won’t have the same lunch break access to it. But maybe that’s not a bad thing; maybe it doesn’t need to be in their faces. Since the event was first launched solar has grown from a nearly niche market to an increasingly mainstream energy supplier, on an ever-increasing number of homes, businesses and warehouses.
In 2002, when the event was first launched, the U.S. installed a total of 23 megawatts of photovoltaics. A decade later, in 2012, it installed 3,313 megawatts of PV. In between then and now, the amount of newly installed solar in America has nearly doubled every year, according to figures from the Solar Energy Industries Association’s (SEIA’s) and GTM Research’s “U.S. Solar Market Insight: Year-in-Review 2012.” So perhaps the U.S. is ready to move the Solar Decathlon across the country, to bring the message of the sun to more people across the nation.
Either way you look at it, the teams are getting ready—as is the site. Orange County Great Park is a former Marine base and air strip that’s languished somewhat since becoming a park about a decade ago. “The Solar Decathlon is the Great Park’s first-ever international event,” said Jeffrey Lalloway, Chair, Orange County Great Park Corporation. “We are excited to welcome the students representing the 20 competing teams and their creative energy, innovation and talent as they prepare to build solar houses that will allow the public to see the future of energy, today.”
The Solar Decathlon will be accompanied by XPO, which together with the Solar Decathlon, is billing itself as “A World’s Fair of Clean, Renewable Energy.” The XPO will showcase the history of energy generation, and look to the future of energy efficiency and renewable energy, including transportation, farming and more.
In addition to teams from the U.S. and Canada, 2013’s Solar Decathlon will host teams from the Czech Republic and Austria. To learn more about the teams and preview their designs, check out DOE’s Solar Decathlon site.