By Maureen Clapper
A brand new city sprang up—almost overnight—about 15 miles southwest of Paris. You won’t find a cookie-cutter template for design here, as each house is unique in function, form, and style. The one thing all of the houses have in common is they are designed, built, and tested to operate on pure, green, and clean solar energy.
This solar city, La Cité du Soleil, can be found between now and July 14 in the parc du château de Versailles. While the solar city became a reality over a short 10-day period, it was actually a project two years in the making. The project is the Solar Decathlon Europe, which evolved from the original U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.
As the energy attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Paris, I’ve been well-placed to watch this project evolve. In March 2012, U.S. Ambassador to France Charles Rivkin and France’s Minister for Housing Benoist Apparu signed a memorandum of understanding between the U.S. Department of Energy and the French Ministry of Ecology, Sustainable Development, Transport, and Housing that established their collaboration to organize Solar Decathlon Europe 2014. Bits and pieces of information were released over time: the number of teams selected, the identity of the teams, and the selection of the site. Things seemed to move slowly from my perspective, but then I wasn’t designing a house along with more than 200 people on two different continents like the two U.S.-European teams participating in the competition: Team Inside Out (Rhode Island School of Design, Brown University, and Germany’s University of Applied Sciences–Erfurt) and Team Réciprocité (Appalachian State University and France’s Université d’Angers).
For me, the concept and the vision of this event started to become clear when we hosted these two teams at Embassy Paris in November 2013. Since then, it seems time has flown by. So here we are at opening week of Solar Decathlon Europe in Versailles. The French hosts boast that this competition has the greatest international diversity of any Solar Decathlon held to date. There are 20 teams representing 17 countries that have been on site reconstructing the houses they built and tested remotely, then disassembled, packed, and shipped to France for this competition. From June 16 to June 26, the teams worked around the clock to reconstruct their incredible jigsaw habitats.
Maureen Clapper is the energy attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Paris.