This afternoon I finally had a chance to visit the Solar Decathlon taking place on the National Mall. It was cloudy and cool in the capital today and by the time I got there after a half-day at work, the houses were all closed to the public. However, I did get to see some very interesting looking structures and got a sense of the excitement that these college students have for designing and building solar powered structures that are energy and heat efficient. And, perhaps the fact that it was cloudy was actually important in demonstrating the reality of solar power: it’s not a miracle solution and far from perfect. Cloudy days really show the limitations of the technology in its current state. But the hype and recent interest in solar power should still be used to bring it to mass market. Some decent solar power is generated even under cloudy skies and having a house with some kind of solar generation capacity is reasonable. Money can be saved and pollution decreased by being connected to the grid and using it when necessary while using your own, locally produced solar electricity on those days when the sun is shining. Like with the move to hybrid cars instead of all-electric or hydrogen cars, it’s not feasible to transition to a system of all solar, at least not right now. There need to be intermediate steps along the way and it’s really not realistic to relay so heavily on one main source of energy like we do today with oil for transportation and coal for electricity. These student built houses demonstrate the benefits of installing solar power while maintaining the current convenience and reliability of conventional grid power.
The event runs through next weekend, so take a trip to the National Mall if you can. Below are some of the structures that may be of interest: