There is little doubt that the Solar Decathlon program has provided an invaluable, collaborative learning environment for teams of architecture and engineering students. And its two sites to date – the Mall in Washington, D.C., and this past year the nearby Tidal Basin – have exposed countless visitors and nearby lawmakers, presumably, to the art and science of green homebuilding.
On the other hand, these same 100 or so houses account for massive investment on the part of universities, and also corporate sponsors and taxpaying citizens.
Consider the numbers: Twenty teams, representing nearly 30 different universities from around the world, will collectively travel a conservatively estimated 40,000 miles to participate in the 2013 Solar Decathlon. That distance is nearly one and a half times the circumference of the Earth. These aren’t light travelers; we’re talking about teams of people, plus an entire home and the resources to reconstruct it.
The University of Minnesota’s entry from 2009 provides a powerful example of this conflict. The futuristic-looking house now stands quietly at a prominent intersection on the university’s campus, its outside walls and rooftop clad in deep-blue solar panels. The house and its team placed fifth overall and earned top honors in engineering and lighting design in the 2009 competition.