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Future Decathlete Brings New Perspective to Solar Decathlon Europe

Friday, June 18, 2010

As the first day of competition week of Solar Decathlon Europe begins, there is a rush of decathletes and organizers on the already sunny grounds below the Royal Palace to get the houses ready to compete and to prepare for visitors. Busy city workers help lay out the last patches of mulch and gravel to shape the team lots. Students perform very Solar Decathon-typical chores as they mop off dust from PV panels and start positioning themselves to receive the crowds.

The Universidad de Valladolid team is working hard to complete its house, and by 11 a.m. all the other houses officially open for public tours. The early visitor gets the chance of a “royal” treatment of individual tours, as in the beginning the expected crowds are not yet seen. Some students from Rosenheim, in their stylish dirndels and lederhosen, cannot believe the organizers once told them to be prepared for hour-long lines that might build up. But the day is still young in Spain, and at the end of the first block of public tours—with the sun reaching its highpoint—some office workers on their lunch break and tourists start to add to the headcount.

Although it’s time for siesta for some, the student teams now get into busy mode for the first round of contests. At this first serious moment, media teams start making the rounds to film and interview students. At the Aalto University house, the student team leader chases its faculty advisor away from the house to make sure the team is complying with the rules.

Four hours of measurements and waiting pass by, and visitors start lining up in front of the houses. The Spanish teams get extra attention from the locals. But other teams, some of which have brought groups of followers from their home countries, are also faced with the challenge of timing their tours to keep lines short. Luckily, the Spanish organizers have coordinated local architecture students to serve as translators to avoid a Tower of Babel effect among the different teams and followers.

The somewhat unrehearsed situation encourages the early evening visitors to help one another by translating back and forth, going from French to English to Spanish, so that no questions remain. At the end of the day, with the sun setting and the light reflecting on PV surfaces, back across the river it seems as if the teams are ready for the following 10 days, when they will welcome many visitors and work hard in the contests. From just one glance at the Solar Decathlon Europe houses, it is easy to say that, with such high quality houses across the board, the bar yet again has been raised.

Jörg Thöne is a U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 decathlete who will compete with the team from Parsons The New School for Design and Stevens Institute of Technology. Throughout the Solar Decathlon Europe competition, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon organizers and decathletes are reporting from Madrid.

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