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Students Energized by Solar Decathlon

By Cindy Long

On opening day of the 2009 Solar Decathlon, the most important attendee showed up early and stayed all day: the sun was hot and bright on the National Mall, powering up the houses in the solar village just in time for the competition’s kick-off.

When nearly 2,000 middle-school students from across the Washington, D.C. area arrived in the solar village a few days later for National Solar Education Day, they were fueled by their own form of energy: excitement.

“It’s really cool to see how all these college students built these houses to show the world how we can use energy from the sun,” said Zach, an eighth grader from Metz Middle School in Manassas, Virginia, who attended the event and also covered it as a reporter for the Student Broadcast Network, a student journalism program sponsored by the National Education Association. “It’s really a life-changing experience to be here to see how much all of these people care about making the world better by using solar panels and things like that.”

The Solar Decathlon is a competition in which 20 teams of college and university students compete to design, build, and operate the most attractive, effective, and energy-efficient solar-powered house.

Since opening day October 8, thousands of people have descended on the National Mall to see the houses of the solar village and to witness the combination of solar energy, energy efficiency, and the best in home design.

The Department of Energy launched the Solar Decathlon in 2002, and it occurs every other year in the nation’s capital. Among the goals of the event is to educate the student participants—the "Decathletes"—about the benefits of energy efficiency, renewable energy, and green building technologies. As the next generation of engineers, architects, and builders, the Decathletes will be able to use what they learn from the experience in their future careers.

The goals are the same for National Solar Education Day and K-12 students. It’s a way to get younger kids excited about science, math, engineering, and green technologies.

Rebecca Pringle listens as Anthony On of the SBN interviews Secretary of Energy Steven Chu.

“This event provides an exciting opportunity for public school students to see our college students imagine, and then create solutions for the energy challenges we are facing right now – harnessing renewable energy, using energy more efficiently,  lowering costs,” says NEA Secretary-Treasurer and science teacher Rebecca Pringle, who was one of the honored guests at the Solar Decathlon Opening Ceremony. "Their involvement in Solar Education Day allows them to learn about these challenges, and see their responsibility in helping to shape the environmental future of this country.”

Anthony On, an eighth grader at  Parkland Magnet Middle School for Aerospace Technology agrees. He already knows he wants to be an engineer when he grows up, but he thinks his experience at the solar decathlon might guide the direction of his career toward the green economy. He's also a reporter with the Student Broadcast Network, and he hopes more students will share his enthusiasm.

“I hope our reports will get more kids excited about the environment,” he said.

The Solar Decathlon will run through October 18. To find out how the teams are scoring, visit the Overall Standings page.



Curricular Activities

Find lesson plans related to the decathlon and solar energy.

Related Videos

Sunny the Solar Panel  "I'm On a Home" (3:28 min) - Ad for Solar Decathlon & Solar Education Competition.

Virginia Lumenhaus (9:41 min) - Virginia Tech entry for Solar Decathlon.

Related Twitter and Blog

Twitter on Solar Decathlon

Huffington Blog on Solar Decathlon

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