Solar Decathlon Moved | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: February 9, 2011

Solar Decathlon Moved

Events: Federal agencies' action is due to concerns about competition's impact on the National Mall
Department: Government & Policy
Keywords: DOE, solar

The Secretaries of Energy and Interior have decided to move the national Solar Decathlon—a solar energy home design competition--off the National Mall when they hold the next event in the fall, says Bill Line, a National Park Service Washington Region spokesman.

The competition will be the fourth one held on the mall since 2002. In 2009, the event drew approximately 200,000 people. For the competition, some 20 teams of architecture and engineering students from U.S. and foreign universities design, ship, and then build advanced 800 square foot solar homes on the Mall's grounds where they are on display for a week. Judges measure the homes' design, efficiency, and electrical output.

But heavy equipment used to produce the event damages turf and gouges the Mall's surface, Line says, adding that the departments back solar energy and sustainable energy practices "but not on the National Mall."

In letters sent earlier this month to the secretaries, several Congress members criticized the move. Twelve senators noted the location is a "key venue" to educate Congress and the public, and the announcement sends a "mixed signal" to students during a time when the Obama Administration is calling on the nation "to reach lofty clean energy goals."

The restriction may be the first of many for the mall. The Solar Decathlon is but one of some 3,000 events held on the nearly two-mile-long National Mall each year, and many require large equipment and construction, among them the Smithsonian's FolkLife Festival, National Book Festival, and various armed forces demonstrations. Limits in these events to protect the Mall are, Line said, "under discussion."

The Department of Energy has not yet decided where the fall solar energy decathlon will be held, says DOE spokeswoman Tiffany Edwards. Students are "disillusioned" and feel it is "absolutely the wrong decision" in light of DOE's support for solar energy, says Elisabeth Neigert, project manager for a solar team from the Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technical Institute. The location, she adds, provides opportunities to educate the public and Congress that don't exist elsewhere, and she notes that it is a requirement that the grounds be reseeded once the decathlon is complete.

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