Department of Interior exiles innovation — kicks Solar Decathalon off the Mall

Everyone loves the Solar Decathalon — or, rather, almost everyone.

A. Siegel has the story in a Get Energy Smart NOW! repost.

Innovation. It’s the new buzzword. Haven’t you heard.  It’s the rage.  Ten times “¦ The President used the word “innovation” ten times in the State of the Union speech:

The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do “” what America does better than anyone else “” is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.

The other “in” phrase, “Win the Future”, made six showings in the State of the Union address:

to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

One of those arenas of “innovation” to “win the future” is “especially clean energy technology — (applause) “” an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

One has to wonder whether the Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, truly paid attention to this speech and the core of its meaning as it made its way through the Administration prior to the actual speech. After all, just days before the State of the Union, the Department of Interior made it be known that it planned to exile from a place of prominence one of the greatest examples of innovative clean energy approaches that is helping “to win the race to educate our kids”.

In mid-January, participating teams learned that the Department of Interior had determined that the Solar Decathlon cannot be at the Mall this coming October due to requirements to reseed and otherwise rehabilitate the Mall which sees protests and tourists and festivals and other massive amounts of use that lead it to be among the most worn over plots of land in the nation.  Time for a break “¦

But, is this a smart move?

The Solar Decathlon is, quite simply, an incredibly amazing event, bringing together 20 university teams who have constructed (often) beautiful buildings that function 100 percent off solar power. To achieve this, they are incredibly efficient and well-designed structures with a variety of solar systems to power them. Judged in 20 different categories, these buildings function, are all innovative in their own ways, and provide a picture on paths forward “” with many of these innovations heading into commercialization after the festival.

Visiting the festival is an incredible experience for young, old, and in-between.  I have been to the four previous Decathlons and have been wowed even more each time with the increasingly sophisticated and high-quality entrants.  The events are ever more crowded “¦ with all age groups.  I take my children there and it is one of the rare events where they have asked to go back to and queried as to when the next one will occur.  And, even years later, my children recall specific items at houses and specific comments from students giving tours and answering questions.

Now, to provide another perspective, I am one with a close relationship with The National Mall.  I have been, since before being weaned, going to Smithsonian Museums and taking strolls on the Mall from before I can recall.  I have played sports on the Mall. Watched fireworks on the Mall. Seen concerts “¦ Joined protests “¦ Watched parades “¦ Been wowed by sunsets and sunrises “¦ Studied for exams “¦ Worked “¦ And even been married on the Mall. (Okay, as to the last, sort of “¦ marriage at the Jefferson Memorial.)  The National Mall matters to me and I understand a desire “” a need “” for protecting it and repairing it.

But, I also understand the power and necessity of “innovation”.

But, I also understand the urgent need to engage our youth in the drive for developing clean energy systems.

If we wish to “Win The Future,” we should not be exiling The Solar Decathlon from The National Mall to some less visible and less meaningful location.

Rather than exiling The Solar Decathlon, we should be heightening its prominence.

The entire cabinet should visit the Decathlon.

As much of the Congressional leadership, as possible, should visit.

And, the President should “” as he did the other day to the Chamber of Commerce “” should walk over to take a look at real innovation and provide a boost for visionaries who are struggling to Win The Future.

By A. Siegel, in a Get Energy Smart NOW! repost.

UPDATE:  MNN reports, “A dozen senators are asking the Interior and Energy departments to bring the popular event back to the Mall.”

Related Post:

7 Responses to Department of Interior exiles innovation — kicks Solar Decathalon off the Mall

  1. Andrew Wolfe says:

    As a student pursuing a clean energy degree at Shoreline CC, (where one of the buildings that went to the Solar Decathalon now resides), I am now on a mission to have my voice heard!
    Really, damage to the lawn vs Job Creation, and inspiration to Americans? Hmmmmmm which weighs more?
    Thanks for this story, and I will pass this on to all my fellow Clean Energy students and Senator Marylin Chase, whom I am sure is lobbying to get the National Mall location reinstated!

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Never forget that innovation threatens vested economic interests. They will do whatever is necessary to de-rail inventions that threaten their market dominance and profits. The anthropogenic climate disruption denial industry has easily morphed into a ‘renewable energy’ denial industry as well, with imbecile arguments that renewables will never deliver peak load base power, will always remain expensive (unlike every other industry when mass production and technological advance worked their magic), will harm the poor (about whom they have never been concerned before)or will bring Jevon’s long-dead ‘Paradox’ back to life. It will be interesting to see if the ‘usual suspects” grubby paw-prints can be found on this decision.

  3. Justin Felt says:

    There was an article on this in the Washington Post that I believe gave a fairly balanced view on it. As a person who personally believes in the promotion of clean energy, I really want to promote the solar decathlon. However, as a Washington resident, I see the horrible state that the grass on the mall is in. Though I would hope that there could be a way to allow the solar decathlon to take place on the mall while still protecting the grass, I am also aware that putting two story buildings on this patch of grass for two weeks at a time simply kills too much of the grass. For those that live in Washington, this is a tough issue.

    Here is the article:

  4. A Siegel says:


    Several things re the situation and re the Post article:

    1. Not a single other event is not going to be on the Mall. If every single thing were being moved off the Mall, this would be a far different conversation.

    2. The repairs to that section of the Mall, according to my USG sources, will not occur until after the Solar Decathlon’s staging time.

    3. There wasn’t consideration for putting requirements on the team to ameliorate damage / take measures to reduce damage.

    4. What is troubling, on top of all this, is the planned renovation / repair of the Mall doesn’t seem to have built in having several blocks converted from ‘pure’ grass to something like pervious pavers that would enable some grass while enabling the support of major events like the Folk Life Festival, Green Festival, and The Solar Decathlon.

    4. As I believe I make clear, I am a native of the area who also has great attachment to the Mall with memories / experience of the Mall dating back decades (too many, sigh …). Thus, this is a conflict of ‘loves’ …

  5. jyyh says:

    ‘Grass’ -referencing jokes on Salzara excluded n/t.

  6. David Smith says:

    My daughter was a participant on the team from Carnagie Mellon a few years back. They didn’t win, but it was a great experience. This event is one of the clearest public expressions of the what now should be a national effort; The creative process of developing and implementing the new clean technologoes. Our future or grass, you choose. Give hope. Don’t hide this.

  7. Albert says:

    Why don’t they have an engineering competition for designing a way to get the houses on and off the mall while doing the least damage, and try out the two winners (assign all the house teams to one of the two engineering plans, and include keeping to their assigned plan in the points for the decathlon)?