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Monday, October 19, 2009

Symbolism? German Solar Team Bests U.S. In Shadow of U.S. Capitol

Originally published at the Breakthrough Institute

Team Germany has emerged victorious from the three-week Solar Decathlon that overtook the National Mall in D.C., shedding a solar-powered spotlight on young clean technology innovators. But the German victory in a U.S. dominated competition may be a portent for the future of U.S. leadership in clean energy innovation.

The Solar Decathlon, in its fourth iteration, involved twenty teams of college students from all over the U.S. as well as Germany, Spain, and Canada. Each team submitted a solar-powered house for competition in 10 individual contests. Importantly, Team Germany succeeded in edging out the closest competition, Illinois and Team California in the net-metering contest, which a test to see how much power a house generates relative to how much it consumes.

The victory, while certainly well deserved, seems particularly poignant in the context of concerns about U.S. economic competitiveness in clean energy technology innovation. Given that this year is the first in which international teams competed in the Solar Decathlon, it seems to be a harbinger of what's to come in the clean energy sector as technologies mature and the markets continue to develop.

As the debate over the Senate version of the House-pass climate and energy legislation continues to heat up, the symbolism of this event and the tell-tale results should send a very clear message to Congressmen: a) that the legislation under consideration will provide too little money, just $1 billion annually, to clean energy R&D, the most critical component of U.S. leadership in clean energy innovation and b) slashing the budget for President Obama's national education initiative, RE-ENERGYSE could have widespread ramifications for the strength and success of our clean energy future.

So, while the student participants will walk way from this exciting event with many skills that will allow them to succeed in a clean energy marketplace, Congressmen must glean a far more urgent lesson: if the U.S. does not make the kind of large scale public investments in clean energy RD&D now, the U.S. will miss out on the economic benefits of both clean energy innovation and a generation of youth who can be trained to lead the world in the clean energy industry.

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