Solar Decathlon 2013 Heads West to Bring Net-Zero Competition to New Audiences

By Richard J. King

California, Here We Come!

Solar Decathlon 2013
U.S. Dept. of Energy Solar Decathlon 2013 collegiate teams gather at Orange County Great Park in Irvine, CA on Friday, Jan 11 for an all-team photo. Stefano Paltera/US DOE Solar Decathlon

For the first time, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar Decathlon will be held far from the National Mall in Washington, D.C., where it has inspired audiences since 2002.

The biennial competition, which challenges domestic and international collegiate teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses, is bound for California Oct. 3–13.

In addition to its new West Coast location at the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, Calif., the Solar Decathlon will be accompanied by an exposition of clean, renewable and efficient energy.  Hosted alongside the Solar Decathlon, the XPO will feature fun, interactive exhibits and activities to educate visitors about energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production and education.

As if all of this weren’t enough to make Solar Decathlon 2013 the best ever, there’s more. The California Challenge will provide fun and excitement as student competitors race electric vehicles on a nearby runway. Add the announcement of winners for the Energy Department’s Housing Innovation Awards, as well as panoramic views of all the activity from the Great Park Balloon that rises 400 feet in the air, and you’ve got a multi-dimensional, must-see event.

“Ever since I scribbled the idea of the Solar Decathlon on the back of a napkin in 1999, I wanted to create a world’s fair of renewable energy. Selection of the Orange County Great Park as the new location for the competition makes achieving this goal possible.” – Richard King

Reaching New Audiences

solar thermal tubes
Brianna Bacon, right and Lizzie DeLeonibus, left, of Maryland look out over Florida International University’s solar thermal (hot water) collector system during Solar Decathlon 2011 in Washington, DC. Photo: Stefano Paltera/US DOE Solar Decathlon

Since its debut in 2002, the Solar Decathlon’s mission has been to educate both participating students and the visiting public about the money saving opportunities and environmental benefits presented by clean-energy products and design solutions. In 2011, event organizers decided to expand the Solar Decathlon’s audience beyond America’s capital. After a national solicitation, during which cities across the country sought to host this popular event, we selected the Orange County Great Park.

A former Marine Corps Air Station in the midst of a transformation into a 1,300-acre metropolitan park, the Orange County Great Park offers space to expand the event — with its mile-long runways, hardscape and great facilities. Orange County’s reputation as a center for high-tech, bio-tech, clean-tech and green-tech makes it the perfect home for the Solar Decathlon 2013 and XPO.

Presenting the XPO

Ever since I first scribbled the idea of the Solar Decathlon on the back of a napkin in 1999, I wanted to create a world’s fair of renewable energy. Selection of the Orange County Great Park as the new location for the competition makes achieving this goal possible.

bifacial deck Appalachian
Appalachian State’s entry in the US Department of Energy Solar Decathlon 2011 in Washington DC featured 42 bifacial photovoltaic panels that supplied solar energy while providing filtered daylight and protection from the elements. Photo credit: Jim Tetro / US DOE Solar Decathlon

Developed around Solar Decathlon 2013, the XPO features visionary and innovative companies, products and educational opportunities to educate visitors about the broad spectrum of energy efficiency in home design, transportation, consumer products, food production and education. Visitors will experience actionable ways to implement energy efficiency today and into the future. The XPO will feature:

  • The Sunshot Innovation Pavilion, an educational trade show connecting consumers to clean energy companies, products, services, while also showcasing educational activities and booths highlighting DOE’s SunShot awardees and nonprofit partners.
  • The Powerful Ideas Symposium, with guest speakers and panelists presenting innovative ideas related to clean, renewable, efficient energy and its connection with the world and our everyday lives.
  • The Competitors’ Pavilion, showcasing Solar Decathlon 2013 team colleges and universities, as well as the winners of the DOE Housing Innovation Awards and the American Institute of Architects Orange County Student Design Competition Awards.
  • The Transportation Zone, featuring clean vehicle technology, electric and fuel-cell vehicle demonstrations, ride-and-drives and competitions.
  • The Arts and Culture Zone, offering artistic gallery exhibitions where guests can explore, discover and experience how art can be influenced by the environment and the environment by art.
  • The Farm + Food Zone, revealing through exhibits and workshops the benefits of locally grown food and how to grow nutritious food and maintain healthy gardens.
  • The XPO Food Pavilion, offering a central gathering place that features organic produce, healthy food, and refreshments and seating for Solar Decathlon and XPO guests.
  • The ABC Green Home, featuring tours of a certified net-zero energy home.

Teaching Globally – and Locally

Since 2002, the DOE Solar Decathlon has directly affected the lives of nearly 17,000 collegiate participants on 112 collegiate teams. Having established a worldwide reputation as a successful educational program and work-force development opportunity, the Solar Decathlon has now expanded internationally to involve an additional 80 teams and 12,000 participants: Solar Decathlon Europe 2010 (in Madrid, Spain), Solar Decathlon Europe 2012 (in Madrid, Spain), Solar Decathlon China 2013 (in Datong, China) and Solar Decathlon Europe 2014 (in Versailles, France).

From our humble beginnings in 2002 to our current international success, the Solar Decathlon has always been about the student decathletes.

Hailing from four countries and two continents, the 20 collegiate teams selected to participate in Solar Decathlon 2013 include nine returning teams, 11 new teams and four international teams. These teams are the heart of the Solar Decathlon.

Meet the 2013 Decathlon Teams

Representing four countries and two continents, these 20 teams are the heart of the Solar Decathlon.

  • Arizona State University and The University of New Mexico
  • Czech Republic: Czech Technical University
  • Kentucky/Indiana: University of Louisville, Ball State University and University of Kentucky
  • Middlebury College
  • Missouri University of Science and Technology
  • Norwich University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology
  • Stanford University
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Team Alberta: University of Calgary Team
  • Austria: Vienna University of Technology
  • Team Capitol DC: The Catholic University of America, George Washington University and American University
  • Team Ontario: Queen’s University, Carleton University and Algonquin College
  • Team Texas: The University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College
  • The University of North Carolina at Charlotte
  • Tidewater Virginia: Hampton University and Old Dominion University
  • University of Nevada Las Vegas University of Southern California West Virginia University

As in years past, Solar Decathlon 2013 will also reach out to local young students. This year, for the first time, West Coast students will have the opportunity to attend Solar Decathlon 2013. All school groups are welcome and encouraged to attend the event any day during public hours. There is no charge to attend, reservations are not necessary, school bus parking will be available for free and food will be provided (for purchase) onsite, along with picnic tables and benches.

Oct. 10 and 11 are dedicated School Days at the Solar Decathlon, when local middle school students can tour the solar houses, experience fun and educational activities designed specifically for them, win prizes and receive giveaways. For information about School Days, contact

See the accompanying article: Students Showcasing Alternative Power for Transportation

Attending Onsite or Online

Richard KingWith everything new this year, Solar Decathlon 2013 promises to be the best ever.

Whether you’re planning to attend in person or rooting for your collegiate team from afar, visit to catch all the action. From daily photos and blogs to the latest scores and competition results, Solar Decathlon 2013 will keep you coming back for more.

– Richard King, creator and director of the Solar Decathlon, works in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building Technologies Office. He can be reached at

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