Housing Complex

Solar Decathlon Gets Booted From the Mall, National Park Service Applauds

Dramatic staging ground no longer. (www.solardecathlon.gov)

Yesterday, DCist passed along the news that the Solar Decathlon–the competitive annual event showcasing innovations in solar technology–was looking for another site this year, since the Department of Energy and National Park Service had decided that it would negatively impact the long-term health of the National Mall, which has hosted the event in the four times it has taken place since 2002. Competitors, needless to say, are not happy. And who would be? There are few more exciting staging grounds for something you've put as much time into as building a ridiculously cool zero-energy house.

It's certainly possible, of course, that the beleaguered Mall does deserve a rest. As such, I wondered whether the National Park Service would be issuing fewer permits overall this year, or if the Decathlon would be the only thing canceled. The only source for this information is the always-cheery NPS spokesman Bill Line. Asked directly, he responded:

The National Park Service (NPS) applauds the Department of Energy (DOE) for recognizing the larger goal of sustainability, but also for DOE's recognition of the need for sustainability on the National Mall. The NPS also applauds the recent events this past summer and fall where event sponsors encouraged attendees to clean up after themselves. The NPS will work with all Special Events sponsors–as differentiated and distinguished from Free Speech/1st Amendment/Right to Demonstrate against or for government policy–to ensure all events have less impact on the National Mall so that all Americans and  international visitors who come to the National Mall can enjoy the National Mall. The NPS is asking all permit applicants' help with sustainability and to help maintain the National Mall in a manner so that all Americans and international visitors have access to a National Mall that is welcoming to all. One of the goals of the National Mall Plan is to make the National Mall a great civic space so that all Americans and all international visitors can take in, enjoy and feel a sense of pride in the National Mall.

So there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The Park Service applauds the Decathlon's relocation, and has no comment on whether or not more events will be moved to preserve the grass.

  • Elisabeth Neigert

    The decision to displace the Solar Decathlon Competition from the National Mall questions the U.S. Government's true dedication to education and sustainability. It is shrewd politics to tout education and green policy, but actions speak loudly and the Obama administration seems to be taking a "skin deep" approach.

    Secretary's Chu and Salazar's choice to displace 20 international collegiate teams (over 1000 of the worlds brightest and innovative minds) working towards the common goal of sustainable, innovative and affordable living from our Nation's Lawn echoes globally. The honor, legitimacy and international platform the National Mall provided to the Solar Decathlon Competition has been revoked. The implication is clear - our Nation's priorities do not lie with education, sustainability or the vision of our subsequent generations.

  • Northwesterner

    uh, yeah, right. The movement of one niche event cascades into national policy. Talk about self-absoprtion.

  • Rick Mangus

    For Christ sake people there are other venues in this town and besides the Mall is undergoing renovations!

  • Dan Maceda

    I agree there are other possible venues but considering that the Mall is under the National Park Service did they offer an alternative under their control. Isn't Haines Point theirs? How about the large grass area behind the FDR Memorial.

  • Eric

    If you've been to this competition, you would understand that the National Mall was pretty much the most logical place. There is no other space in the city this open and flat.

  • Elisabeth Neigert

    Help Keep Solar Decathlon 2011 on The National Mall!


    The Solar Decathlon 2011 Competition has recently been steamrolled by the DOI. Secretaries Salazar and Chu have revoked our permit and removed the Solar Decathlon from the National Mall. If you believe in justice, liberty, education and paving a path for a sustainable future for all please join our facebook group to show your support for returning it to the National Mall.

    (A form letter has been posted you can cut, paste and send directly to Secretaries Salazar and Chu on our behalf).

  • JB

    Other venues? These houses were designed ahead of time knowing their assigned lot, and the orientation the house would have in relation. How do you geniuses propose having a new site that is consistent with these houses' design parameters? Maybe the Park Service should have brought up this issue before the competition was this far along. The houses are supposed to be installed this October.

  • http://www.ccnysolardecathlon.com Farah A



  • tb

    @ Rick: With all due respect, and as a member of one of the schools participating in the event I'm going with JB on this one. I respect the NPS's decision to consider the future of the National Mall, however the timing of this is absolutely absurd. We can tweak our designs, but it's way late in the game for us to do substantial changes to adapt fairly to a new location. This really should have come up either early on or after the event if they intended to do this. Not to forget, that designs probably aren't the only things teams will have to worry about if this venue change verifies.

  • keepsd2011onthemall

    I agree with tb and JB about this one. The location was crucial in the designing process for these houses (which began months ago). A venue change this late in the competition is unfair to all the competing teams. Not only do they have to worry about potentially major design overhauls, but they also have to worry about losing many potential sponsors over this. Albeit, this isn't the only change the DOE has made to the competition since planning for this year's competition began (various rule changes), this is definitely the biggest and most detrimental one.

  • Paul

    From a real world perspective, a change in venue could be quite interesting. As a contractor, I can tell you that there are plenty of occasions when midway through construction a local inspector looks at something and tells us we have to change - even though the plans were previously approved and permits issued. There's a scramble by everyone involved to accommodate the change and you're still under pressure from the homeowner to complete the project on schedule and on budget.

    What I'd really like to see is a Solar Decathlon based on existing home stock. We've got a lot of old and leaky homes in America and we're not going to replace them all. It would be great to put those "over 1000 of the worlds brightest and innovative minds" on the task of figuring out how to best retrofit existing homes. Competition on that front would give a great boost to innovation.

  • th

    Paul: from a real world perspective perhaps. But typically money is a much bigger problem for college programs than for business sponsored projects. Also, research and development depend on a controlled environment. I fully agree that changing the parameters without prior notice is painful to the students involved. These kids put a lot of time, effort and resources into their work and to have even an ounce of that wasted is unfortunate.

  • http://www.youtube.com/SolarDecathlon2011 SD2011

    Check out an appeal video the students produced. Please support our cause!