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  • Carolynne Harris

The Solar Decathlon

Honored to be selected as a juror for SD2015.

I am lucky to work in a field and on projects that often make their mark on me -- learning about new subject matter, understanding varying perspectives, confronting cultural bias, and seeing how cultural and educational initiatives can bridge communities, bring joy and inspire curiosity. And when it all goes right, the projects make a larger impact on people, movements, culture or innovation.

The U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon is all of these things. It's a bi-annual competition among college teams to design, build and operate solar-powered houses of about 700 square feet. They are cost-effective, energy-efficient, and often beautiful. The winner of the competition is the team that best blends affordability, consumer appeal and design excellence with optimal energy production and maximum efficiency.

The teams are nothing short of amazing in their creativity, focus, innovation and perserverence. They raise money (sometimes up to $1M) to design, build, ship, install and maintain their houses for 2 weeks. I will never forget my first SD, when the semi-trucks for over a dozen teams rolled onto the National Mall at midnight, with cranes, houses, and so many support vehicles it seemed like a military exercise. And then after staying up 24 hours a day for many days building their houses, the students were so energetic about their designs, what they built, and the competition -- it was infectious.

Started in 2002, it's now entering it's 7th U.S. competition (it also now takes place in Europe, Asia and Latin America). Part competition, part tour of homes, I worked on three Solar Decathlons in Washington, DC, organizing the Master Plan of the Solar Village, the information visitors encountered explaining and educating them on the contests, wayfinding, and developing outdoor exhibitions related to solar energy and energy efficiency.

This project was challenging, but always something I was proud to work on and just loved. It not only brought schools together in collaborative teams, brought about innovation in home design and technology, cultivated new leaders in energy efficiency, but also showed crowds of over 100,000 people at each event that solar energy and energy efficiency can be affordable, and beautiful.

This year, I was selected as a juror for the "Communications" contest. I will be evaluating things such as the teams' docent-tours during the event, the displays that are around and throughout their houses, their websites, and in general how they communicate their designs to the general public. I'm honored to be a part of this esteemed group of professionals on my and all 10 juries, and can't wait to start seeing the fine work these teams have been doing the past two years.

If you've never heard of it - go to to really find out. Or come to Orange County, CA in October and see the whole huge event!

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