Photos, Solar Decathlon Europe
Last week, I bundled up in winter clothes and headed to Versailles for Solar Decathlon Europe. The significance of the setting was totally lost on me- someone had to point out Louis XIV was the Sun King before I finally got it. Walking around Cité du Soleil, I imagined people in powdered wigs and coattails, fanning themselves in the summer heat, wheeling along in horse-drawn carriages. Exploring gleaming, palm tree-lined solar arrays while shivering under two coats and an umbrella was a unique experience I'll never forget.
I have the most boring things, ever, to tell you about solar power. Not that I know enough about football to use this analogy, but in my fantasy renewable-energy league, it's the quarterback, the Heisman trophy winner. The teams at Solar Decathlon Europe weren't blindly optimistic about ditching fossil fuels. 800 competitors representing 16 states realistically disclosed cost and energy inputs involved- each project took over two years to complete- not to mention hazardous waste generated by solar panel production. Forget cadmium telluride thin-film storage: teams focused on other photovoltaic cells, emphasizing passive solar collection and grid-scale power storage. Competitors adapted electrochemical methods used to manufacture aluminum, applying the techniques to molten salt and magnesium batteries that could theoretically improve renewable energy cost parity. Recycling waste and reducing water consumption were similarly highlighted, among other best practices for solar manufacturers.
All of the houses projected a calm, serene feeling; once inside, I had the impression of being at home on a bright, sunny day, water pouring from the sky notwithstanding. Each design was firmly rooted in a particular place and ecology, utilizing natural materials for structures neither too esoteric nor austere. I felt privileged to live near such a spectacular event, and stuck around until nightfall, when all the homes lit Versailles like satellites around the sun.