I knew when the City of Datong offered to build a new site for its Solar Decathlon that it was going to be spectacular, and everything so far has exceeded my expectations. The site is beautiful and spacious. It has ample facilities for the team houses, two office buildings, central gardens, and thousands of guests. There are two large towers for viewing the village, and all the decathletes stay in the Sun Palace, which is adjacent to the site.
The assembly period had a few problems. It rained very hard, which made mud of the site and delayed the pouring of some concrete pads. The teams had to wait two days, but ample time was in the schedule. All but three teams finished in time for the opening day start, and it only took another day for the rest to finish.
No matter how many Solar Decathlons I have been to, I always worry before the first public day. If you build it, will they come? Well, before the doors were open, the fears were gone. Thousands poured into the site by 9 a.m.! I asked the Solar Decathlon China media team for the first weekend statistics, and this is what they reported:
- Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 3 and 4, Solar Decathlon China attracted 54,000 visitors.
- Taxi drivers transported 36 people older than 70 to visit the solar house for free on Aug. 4.
- More than 100 media reported from the opening ceremony.
Not bad for an opening weekend. That is double the attendance that the U.S. and European versions typically have. I took some pictures of the people waiting to see the houses. Many use umbrellas to shade themselves, which is smart. It’s hot. Temperatures have been in the 90s every day.
This is the largest international event in Datong’s history. The people are provincial, and many have never been out of the city, much less to another country. The opportunity to see how others live around the world is the main attraction. They are seeing some amazing houses with cultural differences. They can travel around the world from Australia to Sweden to Israel to America to Singapore and back to China—in just one morning. And the best part is that they are learning how people all over the world are using clean energy to power their homes.
The American teams are doing well. They are currently in sixth, seventh, eleventh, and eighteenth place of 19 competing teams. The point spread from the first place team to eleventh is only 20 points, and a lot of points will be awarded later in the week.
Richard King is the director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.