Innovation Exiled: Interior Sends Solar Decathlon Packing


    Innovation. It’s the new buzzword. Haven’t you heard.  It’s the rage.  Ten times … The President used the word “innovation” ten times in the State of the Union speech.

    The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.  None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from.  Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution.  What we can do — what America does better than anyone else — is spark the creativity and imagination of our people.  We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook.  In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives.  It is how we make our living.

    You’d think that every member of the Administration would be doing everything — EVERYTHING — possible to enable this critical innovation.

    The other “in” phrase, “Win the Future”, made six showings in the State of the Union address:

    to win the future, we’ll need to take on challenges that have been decades in the making.

    Maintaining our leadership in research and technology is crucial to America’s success.  But if we want to win the future — if we want innovation to produce jobs in America and not overseas — then we also have to win the race to educate our kids.

    One of those arenas of “innovation” to “win the future” is “especially clean energy technology — (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.”

    Again, you’d think that every waking moment (and many sleeping ones), the Administration’s leadership would be working full-bore to leverage opportunities to promote ways “to educate our kids” so that we can “Win The Future” via “our leadership in research and technology … especially [in] clean energy technology.”

    You’d think …

    One has to wonder whether the Secretary of Interior, Ken Salazar, truly paid attention to this speech and the core of its meaning as it made its way through the Administration prior to the actual speech. After all, just days before the State of the Union, the Department of Interior made it be known that it planned to exile from a place of prominence one of the greatest examples of innovative clean energy approaches that is helping “to win the race to educate our kids”.

    In mid-January, participating teams learned that the Department of Interior had determined that the Solar Decathlon cannot be at the Mall this coming October due to requirements to reseed and otherwise rehabilitate the Mall which sees protests and tourists and festivals and other massive amounts of use that lead it to be among the most worn over plots of land in the nation.  Time for a break …

    But, is this a smart move?

    The Solar Decathlon is, quite simply, an incredibly amazing event, bringing together 20 university teams who have constructed (often) beautiful buildings that function 100 percent off solar power. To achieve this, they are incredibly efficient and well-designed structures with a variety of solar systems to power them. Judged in 20 different categories, these buildings function, are all innovative in their own ways, and provide a picture on paths forward — with many of these innovations heading into commercialization after the festival.

    Visiting the festival is an incredible experience for young, old, and in-between.  I have been to the four previous Decathlons and have been wowed even more each time with the increasingly sophisticated and high-quality entrants.  The events are ever more crowded … with all age groups and races and ethnic groups and showing up in greater numbers, for longer time periods every two years.  I have taken my children there and it is one of the rare events where they have asked to go back to and queried as to when the next one will occur.  And, even years later, my children recall specific items at houses and specific comments from students giving tours and answering questions.  All three of my children have expressed serious jealousy that I had the chance to dine on the Mall in one of the houses as an invitee, watching the sun set over the Washington Monument as I dined extremely well enthralled with the passion of Solar Decathlon competitors.

    Now, to provide another perspective, I am one with a close relationship with The National Mall.  I have been, since before being weaned, going to Smithsonian Museums and taking strolls on the Mall from before I can recall.  I have played sports on the Mall. Watched fireworks on the Mall. Seen concerts … Joined protests … Watched parades … Been wowed by sunsets and sunrises … Studied for exams … Worked … And even been married on the Mall. (Okay, as to the last, sort of … marriage at the Jefferson Memorial.)  The National Mall matters to me and I understand (share) a desire — a need — for protecting it and repairing it.

    But, I also understand the power and necessity of “innovation”.

    But, I also understand the urgent need to engage our youth in the drive for developing clean energy systems.

    If we wish to “Win The Future,” we should not be exiling The Solar Decathlon from The National Mall to some less visible and less meaningful location.

    Rather than exiling The Solar Decathlon, we should be heightening its prominence.

    The entire cabinet should visit the Decathlon.

    As much of the Congressional leadership, as possible, should visit.

    Team Germanys Field of Panels

    And, the President should — as he did the other day to the Chamber of Commerce — should walk over to take a look at real innovation and provide a boost for visionaries who are struggling to Win The Future.


    1.  The Secretary of Interior, starting today, is holding a two-day workshop on onshore renewable energy (available to watch live here starting at 0900 EST).  In his remarks, will Secretary Salazar speak to the symbolic power of exiling The Solar Decathlon from The National Mall?

    2. Do note, however, that The National Book Fair will be held on the Mall in late September 2011.  Hmmmm …

    3.  Several Solar Decathlon posts:


    Sign up for the Blue Virginia weekly newsletter

    Previous articleWarner needs Kaine to run
    Next articleDr. Lateef to Corey Stewart: Which Is It Corey: U.S. Senate or Prince William County?