Solar Decathlon to Relocate: Will the 'Solar Village' Move to the 'Burbs?
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When my husband and I attended the first Solar Decathlon in 2002 with our one-year-old and his newborn brother, we (and our massive double stroller) traveled downtown on the subway. Past Solar Decathlons, held on the National Mall, have featured l... Can Houses Car Pool? Not that the Solar Decathlon's transportation energy intensity --the amount of energy it takes to get people to and from a building or, in this case, an event--was negligible to begin with. In order to build that "solar village," the teams haul in houses on trucks and boats from all over the world. New Zealand, China, and Belgium are all sending teams this year, and I don't think they plan to car pool. While the Solar Decathlon only takes place every two years and is arguably advancing everyday home design toward a net-zero future--not only by creating a fun and high-profile incentive for innovation, but also by inspiring students who will be designing real homes in the near future--its total carbon footprint must be impressively large. Still, at least the hundreds of thousands of people who wanted to ogle and tour the beautifully designed solar homes over the years didn't have to fire up their cars and SUVs in order to do so. In all likelihood, that is about to change with the change of venue. Because sadly, it is the solar village's quite literal impact on the National Mall that has forced this unwelcome relocation. A National Treasure Trampled "Right now I'm looking out my window at the National Mall, which is fenced off so no one can walk on the grass," said Tom Welch of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) in a phone interview. The National Park Service just came out with a huge report on its plan to revitalize the desertified Mall. While it looks like the Smithsonian Folklife Festival is still on for late June and early July, the Solar Decathlon didn't make the cut. Welch has not been privy to all the negotiations over relocation, but he said the primary considerations will be "space, access, and the logistical requirements of the event." Twenty homes on display for hundreds of thousands of visitors? Sounds like the suburbs to me. Driving (to) the Net-Zero Future According to the NYT story on the relocation, there are several suburban sites in the D.C. metro area under consideration for this year's Solar Decathlon, but DOE is also considering a number of other cities, including New York and Chicago. Trouble is, the teams have already engineered their homes to collect sunlight on that hot, dusty National Mall, and a major venue change could have major repercussions for those designs. That's one of the reasons DOE is reportedly hoping to keep the exhibition in the D.C. metro area. Perhaps the least disruptive venue mentioned would be RFK Stadium. Although not in the thick of downtown shops, restaurants, hotels, and museums, the stadium is at least somewhat close to the Stadium-Armory Metro stop. It is still half a mile away, though--which, sadly enough, means most people will probably drive unless there is a cleverly marketed incentive to take public transit. Hmm, solar shuttle buses , anyone?