Solar Decathlon celebrates 20 years of training tomorrow’s clean energy workforce


This year marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon, an international collegiate competition that has challenged more than 25,000 students to create efficient, affordable buildings powered by renewable energy, while promoting student innovation, cross-disciplinary education, and real-world training for a variety of careers.

The first Solar Decathlon competition was held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2002. Fourteen teams designed, built, transported, and showcased zero energy houses powered entirely by renewable energy—a feat relatively unheard of at the time. During the 21-day inaugural event, more than 100,000 people visited the first-ever Solar Decathlon.

Since those first 14 houses, the Solar Decathlon has supported 790 teams, grown to include both residential and commercial buildings through Design and Build Challenges. After the initial US events, the Solar Decathlon expanded to  Europe, China, Latin America, Africa, India, and the Middle East.

“As a collegiate competition, the Solar Decathlon is now as old as many of its participants!” said Kelly Speakes-Backman, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). “This is a testament to the Department of Energy’s longstanding commitment to American innovation and achieving a clean energy future.”

The Solar Decathlon’s university teams are disciplinary by necessity. For example, the Solar Decathlon’s Build Competition includes ten different competitions: architecture, engineering, market analysis, durability and resilience, embodied environmental impact, integrated performance, occupant experience, comfort and environmental quality, energy performance, and presentation. Teams that make the final cut must also fundraise and find sponsors to cover the costs of construction, travel, paying the leadership and more.

Many aspects of the competition fit in with a variety of college curricula, but they go beyond the classroom to provide training for the real world. Many Solar Decathlon alumni have gone on to careers that are related to some aspect of the competition, many working to address climate change. Follow the Solar Decathlon social media channels (TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn) throughout 2022 to learn where Solar Decathlon alumni are now and how they are making a difference.

The “eleventh” competition is the People’s Choice Award, where the general public can vote for their favorite home in that year’s competition. In honor of the 20th anniversary, the 20th Anniversary People’s Choice Award will let the public cast their vote for any of the People’s Choice winners from the past 20 years. Voting for the 20th Anniversary People’s Choice Award is open. The most successful buildings from each competition are highlighted on Solar Decathlon social media channels (TwitterFacebookInstagram, and LinkedIn) through the voting deadline on April 23, 2022.

“We are honored to celebrate the 20th anniversary with the students, faculty, visitors, volunteers, sponsors, and partners who have built the Solar Decathlon,” said Holly Jamesen Carr, Director of Solar Decathlon in the Building Technologies Office. “In the 20 years since the first competition, the Solar Decathlon has inspired tens of thousands of students to push boundaries in their education and their careers. Today, Solar Decathlon alumni are contributing to the evolution of zero energy buildings from curiosities we marveled at on the National Mall to imperatives for the future of construction around the world.”

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