Industry leaders celebrate this year's Solar Decathlon

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Industry leaders celebrate this year's Solar DecathlonThe Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Solar Decathlon, being held on the West Potomac Park on the National Mall, is a chance for college teams from around the world to show off their skills, passion and hopes for a better, more energy independent future in a collegial but competitive setting.

But it’s more than that.

It’s also a chance to show what the near future can hold, and show it to an interested public as well as skeptics.

“It is sometimes difficult hearing some of my colleagues questioning climate science or the solar industry,” said New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez (D), during the opening ceremony of the 10-day event. “But that is what makes the Solar Decathlon such an important and great event. You are here in the heart of the nation's capital showing that we can power our homes on renewable energy. We can live our lives without generating climate pollution.”

The work of students from diverse fields, like science, engineering and architecture, show that they can do great things, Menendez said.

“No matter how powerful incumbent power interests are or how much they spend in lobby. And for that I want to thank each and every one of you,” he said to the students.

The competition is also about the efficiency of homes, said Dr. Arun Majumdar, DOE’s director of Advanced Research Project Agency-Energy (ARPA-E).

“This is about using our natural resources in the most efficient way. It showcases the home designs and it's absolutely inspiring to see what's going out here. These are practical; these are fun; these are elegant and most importantly these are affordable,” he said. “It is about being smart, how we live our lives, how we use energy and how to save money by saving energy.”

The event also serves a chance to see how students are innovating and making existing products better.

“The technology in the homes is available today, and what's so invigorating for me is I saw homes [where] the students employed, deployed or are using the technology better than we do in our company,” said Jeff Drees, Schneider Electric’s U.S. president.

The company is a sustaining sponsor of the event and supplied the microgrid infrastructure at the park that allowed the homes to connect to the utility.

“It's exhilarating to see kind of how they created custom applications to drive energy efficiency in the home,” Drees said. “That's how we innovate. We're going to learn from our students and bring that back to our company.”

The U.S. Solar Decathlon has been a growing success since it first started, and international interest has sparked other countries to develop their own Solar Decathlons.

“Last year the first European Decathlon was held in Madrid, Spain. It was a huge success,” said decathlon Director Richard King.

Europe will hold another decathlon next year and in 2013. China will host its first Solar Decathlon soon.

All these events are helping to make solar and energy efficiency in the home more commonplace and more attractive to homeowners.

Photo: Chris Meehan / Clean Energy Authority.