Solar Decathlon Back On National Mall

After a lot of hubbub, the Solar Decathlon is back on the National Mall, although not in the spot where it had previously been held. The U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Interior (DOI) on Wednesday announced the biannual event will be held in late September in the West Potomac Park area of the Mall, several blocks from its erstwhile location.

The first four editions of the Solar Decathlon – in 2002, 2005, 2007 and 2009 – brought a remarkable temporary green village to the National Mall, as 20 collegiate teams erected and operated the solar powered homes they had designed. But last month the DOE said the National Park Service’s “historic effort underway to protect, improve, and restore the National Mall” had led it to move the event from its spot in front of the Smithsonian between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument, with a new location to be determined.

Solar Decathlon, National Mall

image via U.S. Department of Energy

The idea of moving the Solar Decathlon drew strong criticism from sponsors and participants. In a column written for EarthTechling, one activist for retaining the original Mall location was skeptical of the stated logic for pushing the event off the Mall, and extended the argument to question the Obama administration’s commitment to renewable energy.

The new location was described by the feds as “on the banks of the Potomac River along the path between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials” and, more specifically, “on the peninsula just south of the new Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial – scheduled to open in August of this year – between the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Potomac River.”

“Keeping the competition on the National Mall property allows the students to proceed with their existing home designs, specifically tailored for Washington’s latitude, temperature, and humidity conditions,” said Energy Secretary Steve Chu in a statement. Chu’s counterpart at the Interior Department Ken Salazar added: “The National Mall is America’s front yard and we have a responsibility to do what is best for the long term health of the Mall. I am pleased that we have been able to find a strong alternate location for the Solar Decathlon and I am looking forward to a successful event.”

Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

1 Comment

  • Reply March 17, 2011

    Steven Lyle Jordan

    This turn of events is very disturbing to me.

    If, as Stephen Chu states, the Mall is “The Nation’s Front Lawn,” West Potomac Park is the back yard, pretty but unseen from the street, not served by a convenient Metro stop and with no convenient parking. In short: The visibility and convenience gained by exposure on the Mall is completely lost in WP Park. It would have been a better idea to move it to a national park that at least has good Metro access and parking, and there are only dozens of those in the Metropolitan D.C. area. This was a lousy decision.

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