As summer draws so quickly to a close, there is still a sunny spot on our horizon. Beginning on Columbus Day and running through that next week, 20 interdisciplinary teams, including 3 from overseas, will come to the nation’s capital to construct their solar-powered, 800-square-foot homes complete with kitchens, laundry areas, and home offices. They will compete by living everyday lives (though not overnight—federal law prohibits sleeping on the Capital Mall where the solar city will be built).
The teams include architecture, engineering, business, and communications students who look back at the first two Solar Decathlons, held in 2002 and 2005 for inspiration and lessons learned. They must plan, design, publicize, fund, assemble, test, transport, and reassemble their solar-powered homes—an effort that, for most, began as soon as the last competition ended. The Department of Energy is so supportive of this endeavor now that they stepped it up from every three years to the current plan of holding the competition every two years.
It wasn’t always so.
The first competition was on a shoestring, with the sponsors (including the AIA) pretty much creating the rules as we went along. The second competition went much more smoothly. But one school’s faculty (a fairly large university in North Carolina) informed its student team that they had to be back on campus for exams or they would fail the semester, and they left their uncompleted house sitting abandoned throughout the competition.
There are sure to be slips and spills again this year, but with one exception. This technology is no longer bleeding edge, it is leading edge. And these students are doing more than learning. They are teaching—public tours are a large part of the event. Expect a tremendous turnout on the Mall this fall. Visit the Solar Decathlon Web site. And, if you can, drop by to see it live. It’s really fantastic.
What do you think?