Saturday, October 12, 2013

Solar Decathlon Where It Belongs

The Solar Decathlon is being held in California at long last.  The competition was first held in 2002, and features homes powered by rooftop solar panels, and built by teams from across the country and overseas competing to be the most sustainable in various categories.  The overall winning team must design and build a home that meets the following general criteria:

  • Is affordable, attractive, and easy to live in
  • Maintains comfortable and healthy indoor environmental conditions
  • Supplies energy to household appliances for cooking, cleaning, and entertainment
  • Provides adequate hot water
  • Produces as much or more energy than it consumes.
Consider the "DesertSol" entry designed and built by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV).  The DeserSol house uses a solar thermal system to heat water and the home itself, photovoltaic panels to supply energy, and advanced engineering that reduces framing materials by nearly 20%.  The entry will be on display at the Las Vegas Springs Preserve after the competition.

UNLV's DesertSol home design at the 2013 Solar Decathlon.  Solar power and water heating, low water consumption, and efficient use of materials have made this one of the event's most competitive designs. Photo from DOE Flickr page, creative common license.
Held every other year by the Department of Energy, the decathlon has always been hosted in Washington, D.C., but this year it is hosted in Irvine, California.  It seems more appropriate for the event to be held out west, or at least outside of Washington D.C.   Other than the Department of Energy folks that support this event, Washington does not seem to properly value the mostly untapped potential of energy efficiency and distributed generation that these designs embody - policy on these important fronts are mostly stalled.  Consider that a bill supporting energy efficiency (S. 1392) with bi-partisan support has yet to be passed by Congress.  Or that in 2011 the Department of Interior did not want the competition to take place on the National Mall because of the impacts of so many visitors on the grass there.  The irony was lost on Interior that it felt the need to protect a typical lawn from an event that raises awareness about sustainability, even thought Interior provides fast-track approval for the destruction of public lands for big energy projects.

So I am glad for the folks out west that can attend this event, and learn about innovations in sustainable design, energy efficiency, and distributed solar generation.  We should do more to tap these elements to change the energy paradigm, and challenge the assumption that more homes equal more big power plants and transmission lines.

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