Solar Decathlon 2011 – 19 designs to save wild lands

The annual Solar Decathlon was held on the on the National Mall in Washington DC through the beginning of October, and while the solar-rooftops and rain gardens might not directly showcasing ways to conserve our natural spaces and wild places, each of the unique designs in the competition show how saving energy can save land.

One of the most prominent features of all of the 19 prototype homes on display – some looking like they were relocated from Anytown, USA, and some looking like set pieces from Buck Rogers – are the solar panels adorning the rooftops. But inside each home was another eco-friendly innovation – efficiency. Because these homes are meant to operate on the energy they can produce, keeping in the cool air in the summer and the warm air in the winter becomes a high priority, as does efficient appliances and (yes) energy efficient light bulbs.

Homes like the ones in the Solar Decathlon might not be for everyone – in an effort to stay within contest rules, many only had a single bedroom and only one of this year’s entrants had a garage – but the energy saving ideas can be used in homes across the country to reduce their overall energy consumption. In California alone, there have been over $56 billion in savings for consumers since energy efficiency laws were enacted.

This presents two great opportunities for savings – improving energy efficiency saves on utility bills, and reducing our overall energy use saves land.

Conserving 1000 MW of electricity – about the output from one coal-fired power plant – can save more than 23,000 acres of land that would be used for mining, transmission lines, and other energy development.

In saving the land, we also save our air – coal power plants can emit over 600,000 tons of toxic chemicals like sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxides that poison our air and pollute our streams. It also cuts down on the climate-change causing carbon emissions, helping to protect wild landscapes from climate change as well as keeping the air and water clean.

Energy efficiency isn’t just for the houses of the future – it is also for the homes of today, and can protect wild places and consumers’ wallets. That’s a victory that’s even bigger than a decathlon.