Next Steps for the Solar Decathlon

solar decathlon

TheLiberalOC is pleased to publish this essay from Professor Fred Smoller of Chapman University.  Without Professor Smoller’s vision, Orange County’s Great Park would never had hosted the recently held Solar Decathlon in the first place.

Future planning for the hugely successful solar decathlon and XPO requires ambitious and innovative thinking, followed by bold action.

In case you missed it, the solar decathlon, held last month at the Great Park, is the Department of Energy’s (D.O.E) biannual event that “challenges collegiate teams to design, build, and operate solar-powered houses that are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and attractive.”  Approximately 60,000 people toured the 19 homes built by college teams from around the globe.   Irvine beat out 20 other cities, including Austin, San Diego, and Silicon Valley to host the decathlon.   

All five Irvine City council members should enthusiastically approve the solar decathlon coming back in 2015.  In fact, Irvine should go further and become a permanent host of this prestigious world class event.  By doing so, Irvine would remain on the international stage with Washington, Madrid, and Datong, China— cities which have hosted solar decathlons.  Versailles will host the European solar decathlon in 2014.

The solar decathlon demonstrated the Great Park’s ability to stage giant outdoor events, especially those that take place over an extended period of time.  Key to the event’s success was the huge runway which the city originally planned to remove.  Now, city leaders and Great Park staff are suggesting that a portion of the runway should be kept to accommodate future decathlons and other events.  Better yet, the city should incorporate this signature event into its long term plan for developing the Great Park. This vision would include permanent installations that emphasize science and technology, and arts and culture.  

Alongside the decathlon, the city of Irvine staged a clean energy XPO which featured clean energy products and services.  The XPO exhibit is an ideal venue for clean tech firms and other organizations from around the globe to showcase green innovations.  The XPO has the potential to grow EXPOnentially.   Home builders could build models of full sized, mass produced homes which show how solar panels and electric car chargers and other energy saving devices are installed and operate.  Ten thousand new homes will be built on the perimeter of the Great Park.   The runways are also a terrific place to test drive the increasing number of eco-cars on the market due California’s requirement that 15% ( 1.5 million) of all vehicles sold in 2025 be electric or plug-in hybrids. Also, efforts should be made to bring the solar impulse, the solar powered plane—with its Airbus 340 sized wingspan– that flew across the US  and, with support from Google, is slated to fly around the world in 2015 to the next XPO, joining other clean energy exhibits that require a huge outdoor footprint.

 An exponentially bigger XPO will produce a much needed revenue stream for the Great Park.  If South by Southwest and Comic- Con can bring in more than 150 million dollars to Austin’s and San Diego’s economy, surely the XPO can do the same for Orange County.

Over the next 20 years, the solar decathlon and energy XPO can be catalysts for the development of a robust green energy industry, supported by local area colleges and universities, with Irvine as its capital.

Orange County is blessed with abundant sunshine and an entrepreneurial culture that has allowed it to repeatedly reinvent itself.  Our economy has morphed from ranching and agriculture, to defense and entertainment, to high tech and biotech.  Clean tech, with solar energy at its core, can be our next major industry.  Irvine should use the tremendous success of the solar decathlon and XPO as a springboard to become the solar and sustainability capital of the world.

solor decathlon