My Design News colleague, Sean Snyder, who writes our Spatial Engineering and Aesthetics blog, has been keeping a close eye on the Solar Decathlon. The Decathlon, which reached its conclusion this week, is a DOE-sponsored competitive event involving 20 university teams from around the world who design, build, and operate energy-efficient solar-powered houses that educate the public about sustainable living.
I recommend checking out Sean’s posts: “The 2007 Solar Decathlon Winners Are…” and “DOE: Solar Decathlon in DC”.
As an aside, I participated in MIT’s Solar 7 team during the short period of overlap between the team’s founding and completion of my degree (see: “Energy Blogger Joins Solar Decathlon Team”). Although MIT came out toward the bottom of the pack (13 out of 20), their team leader, Kurt Keville, had to overcome substantial internal barriers within the Institute to assure MIT fielded a Solar Decathlon entry. Plus, 2007 was MIT’s first year, and the learning curve in this competition is steep. That MIT had an entry at all this year is a testament to Mr. Keville’s persistence and dedication. The man is a hero.
In addition to drawing MIT as a participant this year, the Solar Decathlon attracted a pack of renewable-energy-emphasizing university programs of considerable stature and pedigree; among them: Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, Texas A&M, Georgia Tech, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Penn State, University of Maryland, and UT Austin.
The growing popularity of Solar Decathlon and competitions like it underscores a new trend in America’s top universities. Organization of energy engineering departments, programs, and concentrations at our schools suggests that the field of energy is emerging as a unique academic discipline separate from the mechanical, petroleum, and systems engineering departments that classically housed energy programs.
However, I wonder whether this trend is genuine. Is it a knee-jerk reaction to the energy crisis over-hyped by the media? Is energy engineering a real discipline, or are all of these universities simply emphasizing energy to chase federal research dollars?
What do you think?