Solar Decathlon Launches Despite US Government Shutdown

Photo credit: DOE: Solar Decathlon

As disappointed as some local fans of the Solar Decathlon may be, it turns out this might have been a good year for the event to move out of Washington, D.C.

While budget dispute clouds loom over the federal government and the Capitol, the biannual Department of Energy event is casting its own sunshine in Irvine, California.

The Decathlon, started in 2002 by Dr. Richard King of the U.S. Solar Program as a way of shining a spotlight on America’s best and brightest university team designs for solar-powered homes, has drawn millions of visitors from across the globe over the past 11 years. The purpose of the contest, according to DOE’s website, is first to “educate students and the public about the money-saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions.” Secondly, the event strives to “demonstrate to the public the comfort and affordability of homes that combine energy-efficient construction and appliances with renewable energy systems available today.”

Competition. Innovation. Affordability. Our students are showing us what the spirit of teamwork can do as we bicker here in Washington. In this case, the students are the ones teaching the better lessons.

The Solar Decathlon’s tagline this year — A Path to a Brighter Future — points toward a much better outlook. And within the solar industry, we are finding that Americans are discovering that solar is indeed the bright way forward.

Residential energy costs are an everyday concern. In the U.S., 115 million homes consume $266 billion worth of energy annually. In its new report on solar heating and cooling, the Solar Energy Industries Association found that approximately 72 percent of home energy usage is related to water heating, space heating, and space cooling.

The technologies on display in Irvine for the next couple of weeks face this issue head-on. Despite the government shutdown, the Decathlon is happily continuing as scheduled with opening events kicking off Thursday.  Visitors to the event can tour student designed and built features such as an exterior walkway shaded by solar panels, a solar chimney with a retractable skylight for natural ventilation and light, and homes with enough energy left over to fuel your car.

Homes of the future? How about homes of today. Already solar is providing concrete returns on investment for homeowners and businesses alike, while educational programs such as the Solar Decathlon treat visitors the world over to both real options today and the possibilities gracing drawing boards of some of the world’s best innovators.

University students pushed to their best through a global public-private competition to create sunnier skies for all of us: now that’s a forecast that might even attract some bipartisan support.

Check out Renewable Energy World coverage of the event here.

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Tom Kimbis is the Interim President of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA), the national trade organization for America’s solar energy industry. In addition to serving as Interim President, Tom serves as General Counsel of SEIA and heads relations between SEIA and the federal executive branch. He has been working in renewable energy since 2000, when he began supporting research, analysis, legislative, and planning efforts across all energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies for the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE).In 2005, Tom created the Market Transformation effort within the Solar Energy Technologies Program (SETP) at DOE to help technologies cross the chasm from R&D to commercialization. He served as Director of Market Transformation through 2009, when he began service as Acting Program Manager, managing the entire $170 million solar energy program of the United States. While at DOE, Tom was a founder of the Solar America Initiative, a billion-dollar effort to accelerate solar commercialization. He led the creation of the Solar America Cities program, a DOE partnership with U.S. cities to develop innovative methods for the adoption of solar energy technologies.Prior to his work in solar, Tom headed a DOE legislative team, founded a real estate investment firm, and practiced litigation for a multinational law firm. He served for six years as Chairman of The Solar Foundation, a nonprofit promoting the increased use of solar energy through education and research. He earned his B.A. from Williams College and a J.D. from the University of Virginia.

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