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Five Questions for a Solar Decathlon Organizer: Joe Simon, Competition Manager

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Joe Simon is the competition manager of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. Before the competition, we asked him five questions to learn more about him and his role.

Photo of Joe Simon on balcony. The Solar Decathlon site is visible in the background.

Solar Decathlon Competition Manager Joe Simon looks over the Solar Decathlon China site from his balcony. (Credit Joe Simon/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

1. When was your first U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon?

I first became involved with the Solar Decathlon in 2006 with the University of Illinois team preparing for the 2007 event. As an architecture student, I helped with construction drawings, renderings, and construction activities such as hanging drywall. I quickly became hooked and attended the competition during the assembly phase as well. Having loved my experience, I came back and became the project manager for the 2009 Illinois entry. Our team was fantastic, and following that event, when the opportunity arose to work at NREL helping manage the competition, I took it wholeheartedly. Since 2010, I have served as the competition manager for the 2011 and 2013 events.

2. What would you say is the most important thing you contribute to the competition?

As the competition manager, I work to ensure that the competition remains both fair and exciting—something that combines many disciplines and goals into one cohesive competition. I foster timely and beneficial communication between the organizers and the teams and help ensure that all teams can successfully compete for each event. I manage a team of about 40 people, ranging from volunteer observers to instrumentation staff and subjective contest juries, who all strive to produce competition scores that are accurate and accessible. I think that my long history with the event, beginning as a decathlete, has prepared me to balance the interests of the organizers with the needs of the students to ensure we have an event that is both exciting and fair.

3. What does a typical day during the competition look like for you?

Sometimes I wish there were a typical day. Throughout the competition, I am working to make sure that we collect appropriate information about the teams, from our 15-minute temperature and humidity data to their performance on tasks such as washing towels or running the dishwasher. I answer team questions and resolve any confusion regarding scoring or rules compliance. I coordinate jury walkthroughs and maintain our scoring engine so that teams can actively compete throughout each and every day. In general, I’m just helping to ensure that the rules are followed and that the organizers collect all the information on team performance needed to accurately score each team’s performance in the competition.

4. Which technological innovation has you most excited for a clean energy future?

I’m actually less excited about any one particular technology than I am about the potential for innovation demonstrated by all of the Solar Decathlon decathletes. These students go above and beyond their peers in working to design, fund, construct, transport, operate, and present a fully functional, innovative house while still full-time university students. They have shown an ability to work together on incredible ideas that will persist long after the event ends. Any one technology is great, and there are many unique solutions present at the Solar Decathlon, but what excites me most is what we will see from the students throughout their professional careers.

5. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

After taking the job at NREL, I was happy to discover the outdoor opportunities Colorado has to offer. I spend my free time outside as much as possible, from hiking to skiing to biking to rafting. There is always something new to try and being able to escape the hustle and bustle of daily life is extremely rewarding.



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