Photo: NREL Solar DecathlonThe National Mall has long served as the nation’s front yard, a place where citizens can gather and display what’s important to them — whether it’s a protest to end wars, a rally to restore sanity, or even a celebration of mid-Atlantic maritime communities. Every other year since 2002, the National Mall has played host to the Solar Decathlon, a building competition sponsored by the Department of Energy that puts 20 solar-powered homes designed by college students from around the globe on display for a two week long design competition and expo.
Two weeks ago, however, the Department of Energy informed each team that the National Park Service had rejected the Solar Decathlon’s permit request, causing organizers to scramble to try and find another suitable location.
As a member of the Solar Decathlon team from tiny Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., this news was pretty devastating. In 2009, our team trekked to D.C. to scope out the amazing houses our peers at other schools had spent two years crafting to maximize natural lighting, tricking out with the latest in green gadgetry, and sweating over when nuts and bolts didn’t fit together right. This was going to be us, and we were pumped. This upcoming fall was supposed to be our time to shine: a bunch of kids from a liberal arts school in New England competing against teams with names like Team China and Caltech, descending on the National Mall to show the nation what ordinary folks can do if they put their mind to it. We hoped our 21st century farmhouse named “Self-Reliance” would shine alongside the Capitol and the Washington Monument. Now it might be sandwiched between crumbling RFK Stadium and the lackluster D.C. Armory.
Putting the Solar Decathlon on the Mall is about much more than pumping up the teams’ egos, however. By placing the latest in clean energy technology right in the heart of the nation’s capital, the Solar Decathlon is an incredibly effective advocacy and public education tool — illustrating the potential for a solar energy revolution and the importance of passing laws that make it easier for folks to “green” their homes. Moreover, it showcases our next generation of American engineers, entrepreneurs, and risk-takers. In the State of the Union, President Obama said “We need to teach our kids that it’s not just the winner of the Super Bowl who deserves to be celebrated, but the winner of the science fair.” Well, this is the Super Bowl of science fairs, and it’s about to be moved from Cowboys Stadium to the Little League field down the street.
Solar Decathletes from around the country have put our competitive nature off to the side and are working together to try and get the competition back on the Mall. Two sign-on letters have been circulating in the halls of Congress, a Senate letter [PDF] championed by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and a House letter [PDF] written by Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Ed Markey (D-Mass.). We’re working around the clock to get as many elected officials on board with our ask to move the Solar Decathlon back on the Mall. What we need most right now is for as many supporters out there to call their representatives to get them to sign on to the Markey letter and call their senators to get them to sign on to the Menendez letter. Let’s keep this symbol of our clean energy future at the literal center of our nation’s political system.
All statements are my own, not representative of Middlebury College or the Middlebury College Solar Decathlon team.