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Solar Decathlon Europe Decathletes Inspire

Saturday, June 26, 2010

When I first arrived many days ago, I was so excited, I ran down to the Villa Solar to see what the teams were building. What I found was inspiration. I was inspired by the designs and the hard work.

When everyone first arrived, there were 17 teams of decathletes, totaling 500 students and faculty members, working independently along a vast stretch of excavated earth and sand along the river. The weather changed. The first day, they could hardly see one another because the wind created a dust storm. The next day, they struggled in rain. Several needed to pump water from around their house. Mud was everywhere. A couple of days later, the strong June sun came out, and by noon, it was so hot it hurt. But the teams and organizers pushed on. In 12 days, they built more than 17 inspiring houses; they built an inspiring village—the first Solar Decathlon village in Europe. Working side by side, they also built friendships and bonds forged with their university peers.

Finally, on Thursday, June 17, the Villa Solar was complete, and as they all lifted their heads to look at what they had built (because none had the time to stop and appreciate it when they were so busy), the sense of accomplishment filled their souls and brightened their faces.

After a spectacular opening ceremony, the village was opened to VIPs, sponsors, and the public. Thousands poured into the village to see the houses and talk to the decathletes. Eager to learn and excited to see first-hand, people lined up for hours and wouldn’t leave until forced out after closing.

The excitement heightened as the competition began in earnest. Decathletes washed the dirt from their hands, put their tools away, and put on their bright, clean team uniforms. The task at hand now was to score points. With instrumentation in place and judges passing through, soon we could all see differentiation among the houses. All the houses had attributes that stood out, so the judging was difficult and the scoring very close. As we stand here on Saturday, the contest is still too close to call.

After everything the decathletes have been through the past two years to get to Madrid, build their inspiring village, and help educate thousands, maybe we should stop now to send a message—they are all winners.

It takes creativity to design a decathlon house. Strength to build it. Ingenuity to power it. And perseverance to get it here and compete. Leaders make that happen.

Richard King is the director of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Throughout the Solar Decathlon Europe competition, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon organizers are reporting from Madrid.

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