Go West, Solar Decathalon: DOE Selects New SoCal Venue for 2013

National, Newsletter
Thursday, January 26, 2012
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The North Lawn at the Orange County Great Park. (Courtesy Orange County Great Park)

The North Lawn at the Orange County Great Park. (Courtesy Orange County Great Park)

We’ve known since early last year that the Solar Decathlon, the biennial event showcasing the best in energy producing, student-designed houses, was no longer welcome on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. due to concerns over wear and tear on the “nation’s front yard.” The 2011 Decathlon, won by the University of Maryland, was pushed to a far corner of the Mall between the Tidal Basin and the Potomac River midway through the design process, causing outcry from student teams who were finalizing their house designs. Officials later announced that future Decathlons might leave D.C. entirely, and today, Department of Energy Secretary Stephen Chu confirmed that it will be moving about as far away from the Mall as possible—to the Orange County Great Park in Irvine, California between Los Angeles and San Diego.

A stone pathway through the North Lawn at the Orange County Great Park. (Sam Lubell)

A stone pathway through the North Lawn at the Orange County Great Park. (Sam Lubell)

Orange County Great Park, comprised of 1,360 acres of recreational area designed by landscape architect Ken Smith and built on a former air field, has been taking shape over the past several years, with a new 7.5-acre Palm Court and 18.5-acre North Lawn already complete. We still found it curious, however, that the Department of Energy noted the site’s “ample visitor parking” and direct freeway access considering arriving by car might be the least sustainable way to access the exhibition. The Department of Energy said the decision to move the Solar Decathlon site was based in part on extending the audience of the fall exhibition of houses.

The Great Park also incorporates environmental concerns into its design, including undulating bioswales filled with native plants that help to store and filter water runoff. The $65.5 million first phase is expected to be complete this year after a series of athletic fields are finished. AN‘s West Coast Editor Sam Lubell visited the park last October to check in on its progress and noted the strengths and weaknesses of reclaiming a disused airfield. Future phases of the park could take another 15 to 20 years to complete.

While the new location might lack the prestige of the grand allée leading from the U.S. Capitol building, the California site will make the sustainability showcase more accessible to a new audience on the west coast, and it seems safe to bet that the student teams (listed below) should have no problem juicing up their solar cells in sunny SoCal.

Overall plan of the Great Park. (Courtesy Orange County Great Park)

Overall plan of the Great Park. (Courtesy Orange County Great Park)

The following teams have been selected from around the world to compete in Solar Decathlon 2013:

· Arizona State University and the University of New Mexico (Tempe, Ariz., and Albuquerque, N.M.)
· Czech Technical University (Prague, Czech Republic)
· Hampton University and Old Dominion University (Hampton and Norfolk, Va.)
· Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.)
· Missouri University of Science and Technology (Rolla, Mo.)
· Norwich University (Northfield, Vt.)
· Queens University, Carleton University, and Algonquin College (Kingston and Ottawa, Ontario, Canada)
· Santa Clara University (Santa Clara, Calif.)
· Southern California Institute of Architecture and California Institute of Technology (Los Angeles, Calif.)
· Stanford University (Palo Alto, Calif.)
· Stevens Institute of Technology (Hoboken, N.J.)
· The Catholic University of America, George Washington University, and American University (Washington, DC)
· The University of North Carolina at Charlotte (Charlotte, N.C.)
· The University of Texas at El Paso and El Paso Community College (El Paso, Texas)
· University of Calgary (Calgary, Alberta, Canada)
· University of Louisville, Ball State University, and University of Kentucky (Louisville, Ky.; Muncie, Ind.; and Lexington, Ky.)
· University of Nevada Las Vegas (Las Vegas, Nev.)
· University of Southern California (Los Angeles, Calif.)
· Vienna University of Technology (Vienna, Austria)
· West Virginia University (Morgantown, W. Va.)

2 Responses to “Go West, Solar Decathalon: DOE Selects New SoCal Venue for 2013”

  1. Dan Whittet says:

    Thats a great venue, especially since the great park has had trouble finding it’s purpose, but UC Irvine and the OC engineering community are huge. Unfortunate that I have just moved from there to the East Coast.

  2. Scott M B Gustafson says:

    It’s hard not to think that moving it out of the nation’s capital isn’t a blow to the stature of the competition, but closer proximity to California’s port cities might encourage more Asian and South Pacific countries to participate. As California has always been a testing ground for experimental residential architecture, the best ideas might have a better chance of turning into full-fledged homes out here than they might in D.C.

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