The Super Bowl of Solar

An early model of UNLV's design for the Solar Decathlon. Image courtesy of Eric Weber, School of Architecture, UNLV

An early model of UNLV's design for the Solar Decathlon. Image courtesy of Eric Weber, School of Architecture, UNLV

Competition. It’s as old as life itself. For many, the word brings to mind mega-events like the recent Super Bowl. As big as that mega-event is, there are other kinds of competition that carry much more weight in the big scheme of things. One such competition is the Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon. It’s not a cliché to say this is a contest where every team is a winner, since they all contribute to solving some of the most important issues of our time. In a nutshell: How to live well while respecting the Earth, demonstrated by building innovative, zero-energy homes.

The Solar Decathlon is a serious challenge and only twenty collegiate teams are chosen to compete in this prestigious biennial event, first held in 2002. The next one will take place in the fall of 2013 and it is special, for a few reasons. All previous Solar Decathlons have been held in Washington, D.C. In 2013, it will take place in sunny Orange County, California. That puts it into easy driving distance for Southern Nevadans. What a great opportunity!

If that’s not special enough for you, how about the fact that UNLV is among the teams that will be competing? This is very exciting news and something our entire community can and should rally behind. Students and faculty celebrated the recent announcement after years of hard work honing their winning application. Congratulations to Team Las Vegas!

This is the kind of competition that really matters. It puts minds on the fifty-yard line, pushing for a goal common to all their opponents. In the end, though one winner will prevail, everyone will have made a difference by contributing to a future we can all live with. This is a direct benefit to our community at large and I expect much good will come from UNLV’s role in the 2013 Solar Decathlon.

While the focus is on energy, last year’s winner, the University of Maryland, also incorporated water conservation into their strategy. Saving water in turn saves energy, and reusing it effectively is vitally important to residents of the Mojave Desert and around the world. I’m looking forward to the ideas and innovation Team Las Vegas will be coming up with.

A three-year-old takes a close look at a solar panel on display at the Solar Decathlon 2011 in Washington, D.C. That's what it's all about, isn't it?

A three-year-old takes a close look at a solar panel on display at the Solar Decathlon 2011 in Washington, D.C. That's what it's all about, isn't it? (Credit: Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon)

A recent UNLV announcement stated, “The goal is an energy-neutral, or ‘autonomous’ home that will thrive in the harsh Mojave Desert climate and operate independent of all public utility services. The UNLV home will combine new and emerging renewable energy systems, technologies, products and appliances that promote sustainability.”

That is an audacious goal but also a sign of where we must go. Our homes should not only provide shelter and security, they should help reverse the trajectory of consumption and waste that has been the norm so far. Our homes, and the built environment in general, hold tremendous potential as a means to heal our world, improve our health, and provide meaningful employment in the transformation process.

I’m sure Team Las Vegas is already hard at work. They have thousands of hours of brainstorming, experimenting, data-logging and building ahead. But it is not just about them. Every successful team has a supportive community behind them the entire way. Let’s make sure we’re pulling in the same direction. Every one of us should be working to build a sustainable community. Share ideas and information. Talk to your neighbors. Attend meetings and learn more about renewable energy and green building. Support Team Las Vegas. It all makes a difference.

So we have a stake in the next Super Bowl of home design and construction. I know what team I’m rooting for and I plan to be there when they cross the goal line.

* * *

This column is dedicated to the memory of Heather Andrews, a wonderful young woman with an incredible commitment to renewable energy. Thank you Heather.

Please share:Share on FacebookShare on LinkedInTweet about this on TwitterPin on PinterestShare on Google+Digg thisShare on RedditShare on StumbleUponBuffer this pageFlattr the authorShare on TumblrPrint this pageEmail this to someone


  1. Thanks for this story. I just happened to be in Washington DC a couple of years ago when the Solar Deacthalon competition was in process on The National Mall. I previously knew nothing about this, but was able to tour almost all of the entries and found it fascinating. It’s great that UNLV is involved with this initiative and that people in our region will have a chance to experience it.

    • I agree – the event is fascinating, and I’ve never been to one! I’m grateful that it will be held on our side of the country this time. I’m looking forward to attending.

  2. Now, that is a compelling headline! I wish we could have solar and wind and so much type super bowl’s in every city — globally!

    Thank you for dedicating your column to the memory of a great activist that I wish I had met during my time to dwell in the desert:

    With appreciation,

  3. Thank you for that link Cherie. It’s a beautifully-written piece.