Solar Decathlon Turns 20!

April 5, 2022 | By Kelly MacGregor | Contact media relations

Collage of approximately 35 historical photos from teams participating in the Solar Decathlon since 2002. Solar Decathlon 20th Anniversary logo, with the tagline "Building Impact for 20 Years" is overlayed on the collage.
Photo collage of teams in action as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® over the past 20 years. Graphic by NREL

As NREL celebrates its 45th anniversary, 2022 also marks the 20th anniversary of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon®, an international collegiate competition that has helped popularize renewable energy and energy efficiency technologies, while training the clean energy workforce of tomorrow.

WATCH: Solar Decathlon – Building Impact for 20 Years

EXPLORE: 20th Anniversary Interactive Infographic

VOTE: 20th Anniversary People's Choice Award

"As a collegiate competition, the Solar Decathlon is now as old as many of its participants!"

— Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy

The first Solar Decathlon competition was held on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., in the fall of 2002. Fourteen teams designed, built, transported, and showcased zero-energy houses powered entirely by renewable energy—a feat relatively unheard of at the time. During the 21-day inaugural event, more than 100,000 people visited the first-ever Solar Decathlon.

Since those first 14 houses, the Solar Decathlon has supported 790 teams, grown to include both residential and commercial buildings through Design and Build Challenges, trained more than 25,000 students from 40 countries, and inspired 15 additional events held abroad.

"As a collegiate competition, the Solar Decathlon is now as old as many of its participants!" said Kelly Speakes-Backman, principal deputy assistant secretary for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE). "This is a testament to the Department of Energy's longstanding commitment to American innovation and achieving a clean energy future."

The department is planning several events and activities to commemorate 20 years of impact:

  • To visually see how much the competition has grown, check out a new interactive infographic that highlights all 308 participating collegiate institutions and the six international Solar Decathlons modeled after the original U.S. version.
  • Voting for the 20th Anniversary People's Choice Award is now open, allowing the public to cast a vote for their favorite award-winning competition house. The most successful buildings from each competition will be highlighted on Solar Decathlon social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn) through the voting deadline on April 23, 2022.
  • Many Solar Decathlon alumni are working to address climate change, helping bring high-performance, zero-energy buildings from the National Mall to your local neighborhood. Follow the Solar Decathlon social media channels (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn) throughout 2022 to learn where Solar Decathlon alumni are now and how they are making a difference!
  • Celebrations will culminate at the Solar Decathlon Competition Event, April 22–24, 2022, with approximately 90 finalist teams competing in the 2022 Design Challenge and the 2023 Build Challenge. At the event, Design Challenge teams will compete for two Grand Winner prizes. The Build Challenge teams will present their designs and construction plans, a crucial step in advancing to the Construction Phase and receiving prize funding from the Department of Energy. With the competition's first-ever all-local build format, homes will be built permanently in teams' local communities around the world and open for public tours in spring 2023.

"We are honored to celebrate the 20th anniversary with the students, faculty, visitors, volunteers, sponsors, and partners who have built the Solar Decathlon," said Holly Jamesen Carr, director of Solar Decathlon in the DOE Building Technologies Office. "In the 20 years since the first competition, the Solar Decathlon has inspired tens of thousands of students to push boundaries in their education and their careers. Today, Solar Decathlon alumni are contributing to the evolution of zero-energy buildings from curiosities we marveled at on the National Mall to imperatives for the future of construction around the world."

To stay up to date on the latest 20th anniversary celebrations, including a video capturing 20 years of the Solar Decathlon, visit the 20th anniversary landing page.

About the Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition that prepares the next generation of building professionals to design and build high-performance, low-carbon buildings powered by renewables. The Design Challenge is a one- to two-semester, design-only competition, while the Build Challenge is a two-year design-build competition.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2022, the Solar Decathlon has challenged more than 25,000 students to create efficient, affordable buildings powered by renewables, while promoting student innovation, STEM education, and workforce development opportunities in the buildings industry.

Buildings account for 75% of electricity use, 40% of total energy use, and 35% of carbon emissions in the United States. Solar Decathlon supports a key strategy for tackling climate challenges: developing a workforce that is equipped to design and construct a low-carbon building stock and deliver an equitable clean energy future.

Additional details are available on the Solar Decathlon website.