The Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon kicked off today in Washington on the National Mall, under inauspiciously dark rainy skies. In a press release announcing the competition, Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu is quoted as saying, “The Solar Decathlon collegiate teams are showing how clean energy products and efficient building design can help families and businesses reduce energy use and save money…The event challenges talented students to become pioneers of clean energy technology and helps ensure that out nation remains competitive in the workforce of tomorrow.”

Chu has reason to be hopeful that the competition pays off: The Department of Energy gives a $100,000 grant to each team just to participate in the Solar Decathlon, in addition to all the other costs of hosting and producing the competition. (Some of the other costs are offset by the myriad sponsors–from Lowe’s to Pepco.)

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