Solar Decathlon: The Energy Leaders of Tomorrow

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Inspiring. The word that comes to mind when I reflect on my recent experience at the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013. For those that may not be familiar, the Solar Decathlon is an award-winning collegiate competition that challenges students to design and build energy-efficient, cost-effective solar-powered homes. The winner is the house that best blends efficiency, affordability, and aesthetic appeal.

As a Sustaining Sponsor since 2007, Schneider Electric provides product donations for use in the team’s homes, technical expertise, the microgrid solution, and volunteers – which is where I fit in. As part of the core planning team, my leisurely summer nights were quickly replaced by long days and stress-inducing event planning, but that’s nothing compared to the time and commitment the students put in. They work for over two years from concept to creation… and wow are they creative!

To give you an idea, Team Alberta built a “living wall” into the bathroom that hosts plant life. Sustained by large sun-tunnel skylights, the wall provides cooling, air purification, and connection to nature throughout the year. Team Kentuckiana put a whole new meaning to the term “multi-purpose”… the living room in their house easily transforms into an entertainment space, home office, or extra bedroom! The innovation exhibited by the teams was nothing short of extraordinary. Many of the homes featured technologies developed in-house by the university students that are now being considered for commercial use.

Solar Decathlon - Living Wall

Each home had something unique to offer and visitors (myself included) were taking notes on what they could adapt for use in their own homes. After visiting a couple of the homes and talking with the students, it was clear to me that these individuals are incredibly knowledgeable and passionate about energy efficiency. They are the energy leaders of tomorrow. They’re bringing real change and innovative ideas to the public, and we should all be taking notes. Not convinced yet? See what Jim Pauley, SVP External Affairs and Government Relations at Schneider Electric had to say after visiting the solar homes.

While I must admit I’m glad the event is over (I have my life back!), I am truly grateful for the experience and to have met so many inspiring, talented people. There is so much that can be done from an energy efficiency standpoint today, and the Solar Decathletes are helping to lead the charge. I strongly encourage anyone with an interest in energy efficiency to get involved in the next Solar Decathlon competition.

Were you at the Solar Decathlon? Share your story in the comments below!

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  • Robert Thomas

    11 years ago

    I was wondering how one is invited to participate as a judge or evaluator for this competition?

    • Niki Paulson

      11 years ago

      Great question, Robert! Prior to each event, the Solar Decathlon organizers accept nominations for jurors and consider qualifications, availability, and interest when identifying jury members. Interested individuals can contact the organizers at

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