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10 Reasons to Visit the Solar Decathlon

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

By Kristin Madding

A free event that will blow your mind is about to land in the Denver area. It’s the Solar Decathlon: a multiday, multiteam, multidisciplinary competition that pits collegiate teams against one another in categories of design, engineering, energy, and more. (Goosebumps!) It’s essentially the national championship of solar home building. But, instead of tossing the ole pigskin, teams from the United States, Switzerland, and the Netherlands are building full-size houses featuring the latest sustainability tech to compete in 10 contests. It’s … kind of a big deal.

The 2017 event will be open to the public from October 5-8 and 12-15. We, the U.S. Department of Energy, host the event (so you know it’s legit), and since we’re passionate about spreading the renewables-word and supporting our amazing decathletes, we want YOU to help us by visiting. Honestly, there’s no good reason not to come, but just in case you need more convincing, here are our top 10 reasons.

#1: It’s easily accessible for Coloradans … and did we mention it’s FREE?

This year marks the first time in its 15-year history that the Solar Decathlon will be held in the greater Denver metro area. We’ve picked a fitting spot at Peña Station Next, a burgeoning “smart city” located between downtown Denver and the airport. Here, our futuristic solar-powered village will set the stage for the new sustainable urban development in progress. Just hop on the University of Colorado A line commuter rail and ride in style to the 61st & Peña Station at 6045 N. Richfield St., Denver, Colorado. For those coming by car, bike, bus, or yes, even airplane, you can find directions to the event site here.

This artist’s rendering shows the vision for the Peña Station Next development in Denver. Image courtesy of City and County of Denver and SevenG.

#2: Our opening ceremonies? Think Olympics.

OK, OK. Tiny exaggeration here. While we operate on a slightly smaller budget than the Olympics, our opening ceremonies are still worth attending and we’d love your help to kick off the event. Join us on Thursday, October 5 at 9:30 a.m. to meet the decathletes, get a sneak peek at the projects, and be first into the Solar Village. I mean, who doesn’t like to be first?

Students from the University of Applied Sciences Rosenheim totally rocked lederhosen at the Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 opening ceremony. Too bad style points aren’t included in one of the contests. Photo by Richard King/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#3: The house tours. ’Nough said.

While they’re not exactly “homes of the future” (most of these high-tech home strategies are available now, people!), you will be blown away by these modern feats of design, sustainability, and technology. Think I’m exaggerating? You’ll just have to see the houses to believe me, and you can during the not-to-be-missed house tours. Each home is equipped to meet the needs of a specific demographic, location, and purpose. So whether you are a DIY-er living in a super-hot desert or a baby-boomer in tornado-prone country, there is a unique and interesting sustainable living solution for you. Bottom line: if you’re at all interested in smart tech, design, or sustainability, these tours are a must.

Find and tour your green dream house in the Solar Village. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#4: You can bring the kids … and they’ll heart it.

You’re already looking to get your kids out of the house, so bring them to our house … errr … 12 houses. Your kids will love “playing” with tech, imagining themselves in these uber-modern homes, and meeting the inspiring students who built them. (Talk about good role models, right?) Plus, this event is probably the easiest and most effective way to demonstrate energy conservation, water conservation, and waste reduction in action—something all kids need a little more of today. And if they still only want to Snapchat their days away, tell them that we have a geofilter. They’ll know what that means.

Bring your mini-me to the Solar Decathlon for some good clean fun. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#5: Sometimes winning IS everything.

Your blood is pumping. Your heart is thumping. You’re holding your breath until you hear those two small (but important) words: you’ve won! Well, not YOU per se, but the student decathletes, for sure. After picking your favorites from the house tours, you’ll naturally need to know who takes the top spots in each of the 10 contests, as well as the overall competition winner. There will be clapping, there will be cheers, there may even be tears … so, if you’re eager to catch the award ceremonies, plan your visit(s) for October 12-14. See the full winner’s announcement schedule here, and be sure to vote for your favorite house to win the People’s Choice Award by casting your ballot on the Solar Decathlon Facebook page October 4-14.

UNLV enjoys a pure joy moment when learning of their second-place finish in the 2013 competition. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#6: You can test drive your dream EV.

Stop by our Electric Vehicle Ride and Drive experience on Saturday, October 14 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. to learn about incentives and money-saving opportunities, model features, the ins-and-outs of charging, and the positive environmental impacts of all-electric cars. Qualified drivers will get to test drive multiple vehicles. If you’ve been on the fence about purchasing an EV—or even if you just want to know how it feels to accelerate in a super lightweight car—this exhibit should be enough to get you down here. There’s also a bonus for future-minded sustainable transportation fans (you know who you are!). You can check out a fuel-cell EV at the Solar Decathlon Sustainability Expo, which will be open to onsite visitors throughout the competition.

A solar-powered car never needs to stop at a gas station, unless you want to reward yourself with candy. Photo by Thomas Kelsey/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#7: You can workshop your way to “Expert.”

The Solar Decathlon is more than a spectator sport. We’ve lined up a series of consumer/homeowner workshops hosted by industry leaders to help you make sense of renewable energy options, implementing sustainability solutions at home or work, and the current state of renewables. There’s a big renewable energy world out there and the Solar Decathlon is here to help—just don’t be surprised if you walk away talking about things like structured finance and rated power of solar panels. Click here for full workshop descriptions and schedules.

Master the art of the TLA (three-letter acronym) at a Solar Decathlon educational workshop. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#8: You can recruit up-and-coming STEM leaders.

We keep hearing employers say they can’t hire enough high-quality talent to join their design/engineering/tech/green energy firms. That’s because they’re all at the Solar Decathlon! Join us to network with hundreds of the brightest, most creative, and highly motivated students who are prepared and eager to thrive in your STEM-related industry. Where else can you see a future employee’s work AND get on-site testimonials from their instructors AND engage in an impromptu interview all in one place? All in one hour? It’s time to get off LinkedIn and get down here.

This situation makes complete sense to a decathlete. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#9: It’s not a water park, but there’s a water theme.

Always ahead of their time, past Solar Decathlon teams have repeatedly integrated water use and reuse strategies into their designs, even though no points were awarded for this effort. Well, we’re taking note. For the first time, the 2017 event is rewarding smart water solutions. This new contest is important not only because water is a precious resource, but also because water and energy are inextricably linked—it takes water to make the energy we use, and it takes energy to treat and deliver the clean water we require.

This greywater filtration system developed by Virginia Tech not only reused wastewater from the house’s shower and sink, but also doubled as a landscape element. Photo by Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

#10: You don’t even have to leave your home. Wait. Wha?

We believe location should never be a barrier to learning about sustainability, so for the first time, we’re offering our at-home visitors a unique virtual event experience. That’s right, you don’t even have to the leave your couch to be able to explore 360° videos in our virtual village, or experience daily tours broadcast live on the Solar Decathlon Facebook page. I don’t know about you, but if I never had to take off my pajamas, I’d probably go everywhere—and now’s your chance.

Come on in. Have a look around, virtually. Photo by Jason Flakes (Nomoi)/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

It’s a really incredible thing to see how today’s collegiate students envision the future. They have spent the past two years planning, fund-raising, designing, marketing, and building (then disassembling, and reassembling again) these solar-powered houses. We want to celebrate their blood, sweat, and happy tears, right? Right. And you never know, maybe your alma mater is competing this year (hint: check here). The Solar Decathlon could not be as impactful as it has been (yes, there are now competitions on five continents) without an engaged audience—and that means you! Please visit our online Competition hub to learn more about the teams, their homes, and the competition rules. See you there!

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