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Solar Decathlon Prepares Thousands of Students for the Clean-Energy Workforce with Valuable Hands-On Experience

People wearing hard hats walking toward a solar decathlon organizer tent and the mountain range behind it with the sun rising in the distance.

Photo Credit: Amy Vaughn/U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon

The U.S. Department of Energy's Solar Decathlon workforce efforts are paying off. In emerging and ever-changing areas such as renewable energy and energy efficiency, the Solar Decathlon has prepared an estimated 20,000 students to enter the workforce with valuable skills and experience. In a recent impact study, it was determined that the student participants and exhibit visitors:

  • Work in more clean-energy jobs
  • Start more clean-energy companies
  • Convince other to install more renewable energy
  • Know more about energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Choose more energy efficient appliances and lighting.

Here's what a few graduates have to say:

"There is simply no substitute for direct experience, and the Solar Decathlon provides an unparalleled opportunity to work with a real budget and collaborate with an interdisciplinary team on renewable energy, energy efficiency, construction, project management, marketing, communications, and fundraising."
Dave Schieren, New York Institute of Technology Team, 2007.

"The Solar Decathlon is on the one hand a platform to exhibit energy-efficient houses, but it is also an opportunity to spread powerful ideas to architects, builders, engineers, students, adults, or anyone who sees themselves occupying a constructed space. I don't think that anyone could leave Decathlete Way without remembering at least one idea that he or she could use to work toward a more sustainable lifestyle."
Cordelia Newbury, Middlebury College Team, 2013.

"The Solar Decathlon is working to provide the novel solutions we will need to solve one of the greatest challenges of our generation: the energy crisis. The side effect of having students work on this problem is a new generation of engineering, architecture, and business people who are prepared to lead responsible and sustainable projects throughout the world."
Matthew O'Kelly, The Ohio State University, 2009.

NREL has been providing the organizational and technical support for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon since its inception in 2002. NREL's technology deployment staff designs the competition, writes the rules, ensures building code compliance, coordinates the subjective juries, and conducts objective building performance measurements, all to incentivize diverse innovation and determine the winners. NREL's technical experts guide the design and operation of a two-way power flow microgrid that interconnects the competition houses and electric vehicles. NREL staff also produces dynamic communication and outreach content in various traditional and digital forums to educate the students, general public, and industry. The Lab oversees safety, logistics, and the integration of multiple project partners as well.

Benefits of the Solar Decathlon have grown over time and overseas in Europe, China and Latin America. In all three cases, NREL staff contributes expertise and experience to the international organizers of this impactful competition and public education endeavor.

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