It looks like there’s already a major upset rocking September’s 2011 Solar Decathlon, and it doesn’t even involve any intimidatingly efficient Germans teams.
It was announced last week on the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon blog that the mostly bi-annual event where 20 domestic and international collegiate teams duke it out in 10 contests to see who can design and build the most attractive, livable, and energy-efficient solar-powered home is being booted from its home, the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The Mall — or as it's fondly dubbed, "the nation's front yard” — has been the setting for the past four Solar Decathlons in 2002, 2005, 2007 and in 2009. (Check out my coverage from a very muddy and miserable Mall during that year’s event and a great photo gallery.)
The reason for the change of venue? The National Park Service is embarking on a historic effort to “protect, improve, and restore” the 684-acre park. This is fabulous news — you can’t really protest the renovation of one of America’s most iconic outdoor spaces — but it’s still a big deal considering that the Mall, mud or no mud, pretty much defines the Solar Decathlon. Plus, many of the homes were specifically designed to be built on the Mall and for September weather in Washington.
Naturally, many of the student teams gearing up for the big competition are none too pleased with the announcement. Addison Godine of the Middlebury College team laments: “Throughout, we've all been dreaming about building these solar-powered houses on the Mall. Any other location seems like it will be less.” Johann Kyser of Team Canada remarks that “like many of the other teams, we're a little bit concerned. We've made a lot of arrangements based to the fact that it's going to be on the National Mall."
Bum out. It would have been nice if the National Park Service had decided that the Mall was a no-go a bit sooner with only nine months to go until the big event. The DOE plans to announce exactly where the 2011 Solar Decathlon will be held over the coming weeks. Alternative venues in the D.C. area such as the Montgomery County Fairgrounds and RFK Stadium have been mentioned in addition to moving the event to a completely different city like New York, Chicago, L.A., and St. Louis is not out of the question.
Says the man behind the event, Richard King of the U.S. Department of Energy:
It will be least disruptive and more cost-effective to keep it in Washington; that's where we've always planned to do it, but since we are looking, why not look at some other spots that might be just a wonderful venue and an opportunity to take this good story to other sections of ... the country?
King also adds that he’s unsure if the Solar Decathlon will ever return to the Mall, and in future years the event will likely rotate between different host cities.
Of the 20 teams competing in this year’s currently homeless green home building competition, 16 are American. China, Belgium, New Zealand, and Canada (no Germany!) round out the roster. I got a sneak peak of Team New York’s entry, the Solar Roof Pod, at the Urban Green Expo this past September. It’s a real thought-provoking, city-centric beauty, and you can bet I’ll be rooting for my hometown team no matter where the event takes place, whether it's around the capitol or in Cleveland. I'll be taking a look at more of the competing homes as the event nears.
In other Solar Decathlon-related news, the teams competing in the second Solar Decathlon Europe were unveiled last week. It’s a diverse lineup (but void of any U.S. competitors, which is interesting given that one of the two competing teams from the U.S., Virginia Tech, emerged victorious in 2010) including teams from Egypt, Brazil, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the U.K., Romania, Hungary, China, and Japan. Four teams hailing from the event’s host country, Spain, will be participating. On that note, it appears that the 2012 Solar Decathlon Europe will not be subject to a location change and will once again be held in Madrid.
MNN homepage photo: Department of Energy Solar Decathlon/Flickr