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Solar King

September 1, 2010

Interview by Jane Kolleeny

Richard King, Director of the Solar Decathlon, has been with the DOE since 1986, primarily in the Solar Energy Technology Program. Recently he has been working in the DOE Buildings Program to build more cost-effective, energy-efficient homes powered by solar energy. Mr. King created the Solar Decathlon in 2000 and directed the 2002, 2005, 2007, and 2009 events. He is now working on the 2011 event.

Richard King on the grounds at the 2009 Solar Decathlon event, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Photo © Stefano Paltera/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

Richard King on the grounds at the 2009 Solar Decathlon event, held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

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GreenSource: Why make the Solar Decathlon a student competition?

Richard King: For three reasons: 1. Universities are our nation’s warehouses of knowledge and innovation. We were looking for solutions, and wanted the creativity and open mindedness found in 20-something college students. 2. We wanted to teach student architects and engineers (a new generation of energy leaders) how to design and build sustainably. 3. Students have the most vested interest in finding solutions because their generation is going to live longer than ours and pay the most for energy over their lifetimes.

GS: How did the 10 categories come about?

RK: We were looking for a way to evaluate houses side-by-side. Do they look good? And can solar provide all their power? So I started listing all the ways. We could judge them for architectural excellence, engineering excellence, market viability (i.e., build ability, curb appeal, cost effectiveness), and communications (messaging and branding). We could also measure them for performance, such as power consumption for air-conditioning, heating, hot water, lighting, and appliances. Ten categories seemed optimum to encompass all the ways a house could be evaluated, so we named the competition Solar Decathlon.

GS: How has the program evolved since 2002?

RK: The competition has increased in size, stature, and international outreach. Since the start, the teams have represented an increasingly diverse range of design approaches, building technologies, and geographic locations. Green and local building materials, which are not explicitly required, have become more prevalent as students embrace more environmentally conscious designs. Competition rules have shifted slightly to stay current. For instance, new for the 2011 competition, the Affordability Contest emphasizes cost-effective energy efficiency and renewable energy products. Finally, our university teams and consumer audiences have become more sophisticated and environmentally conscious. We no longer have to sell to visitors the “why” or even the “what” behind solar power.

GS: What are your thoughts about its international popularity?

RK: It’s terrific. The international scope provides the opportunity for our architects and builders to see different building technologies and products firsthand. As a result, everyone’s building practices improve.

GS: What do you think is the single most important thing to appreciate about this program?

RK: Education. The Solar Decathlon teaches students, our energy leaders of the future. Consumers learn about energy efficiency and clean renewable energy. And the event also educates the professional community about the many innovations found in the homes. It’s a win-win for everyone.

This article appeared in the September 2010 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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