Oct 31, 201311:00 AMPoint of View

The Indicator: Why the Solar Decathlon Should Enter the Real World

(page 3 of 3)

What if the next Solar Decathlon were in Detroit or New Orleans, or even a Native American reservation out in the middle of nowhere? What if it implicated real energy-users and real buildings? Then it would start to get interesting. Until it does something on this scale it will continue to be temporary, like an event at a World’s Fair or a carnival ride—it will still be something people can question and think of in terms of being outside the norm. The enduring influence of the Case Study Houses, after all, is due to the fact that they are real houses in real contexts, hooked into the grid.

DOE could move beyond the “temporary pavilion” or “demonstration model” approach and actually implement sustainable practices to retrofit existing buildings to have an impact on real communities. This would begin to move their education initiative more into the public realm. By modeling real-world energy initiatives like those found in Hamburg, DOE could increase the real-world relevance of the Solar Decathlon for the future. And if the Decathlon did that, then it could truly consider itself sustainable – in all senses of the word.

Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology’s Solar Decathlon 2013 House Rendering.

Courtesy U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon



Guy Horton is a writer based in Los Angeles. In addition to authoring “The Indicator,” he is a frequent contributor to The Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis Magazine, The Atlantic Cities, and The Huffington Post. He has also written for Architectural Record, GOOD Magazine, and Architect Magazine. You can hear Guy on the radio and podcast as guest host for the show DnA: Design & Architecture on 89.9 FM KCRW out of Los Angeles. Follow Guy on Twitter @GuyHorton.

Nov 1, 2013 09:24 pm
 Posted by  PAS

I attended the most recent Solar Decathlon and yes, I am part of that self-selecting population of people who is already into such things.

However, listening to the many questions I heard while on house tours, there were many attendees who were asking "basic" questions about solar power and how it works. My four year old, custom built house has 24 solar panels and when I share that information with "regular folks" I meet through my work they still ask such things as where I keep the batteries.

The fact is most folks who buy a home (either previously lived in or new) do not get to make the decisions about how energy-efficient it is, decisions that have been made by prior owners or the developer.

Also my sense is that many home owners, or would be owners, have a wish list of things they want in their home and if you watch HGTV shows you regularly hear that list as folks discuss future purchases or makeovers. Energy efficiency is rarely mentioned, unless the house being made over has displayed annoying symptoms, such as heavy condensation. Intellectually, most folks know energy efficiency can mean payback but it's not as sexy and immediately visible as marble countertops or walk-in closets.

So I agree with notion that the DOE should find ways of targeting developers and offering incentives. The hybrid and all electric car market has experienced various incentives, one being that the average MPG # across the manufacturer's fleet means there will a range of vehicles offered to meet it. And we also have the tax break incentives.

Maybe there should be a similar programs for home developers and home improvement practices.

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