Initiating Innovation at the Solar Decathlon and EPA P3

The 2011 Solar Decathlon officially ended on October 2nd when director Richard King sent a warm thank you to everyone involved. But the Solar Decathlon happens every two years, and King ended his thank you like a starter cuing off a race. "I can't wait to do this again!" he wrote with refreshing sincerity and energy.

But it's true, we all can't wait to do it all over again. Amidst all the oil-scarcity concerns, failure to implement clean energy technologies and an ineffective green jobs strategy, the Solar Decathlon radiates as a bright spot in a dim energy future. The Solar Decathlon showcases the homes many of us want to live in someday, homes that stand apart from convention and tradition. Programs like the Solar Decathlon—although outside of the agency's regulatory scope—provide a platform for much needed innovation.

EPA runs a similar program every year. The P3 (People, Prosperity, Planet) Design Expo showcases sustainable designs from across the nation. It lets young, thoughtful people explore new ideas. It gives everyone a chance to change the world. Last year, forward-thinking college students won EPA grants to continue researching projects like Drexel University's lightweight green roof system or the University of Illinois' solar-powered, self-watering plant system.


While the Solar Decathlon is pretty cut and dry, P3 lets students explore the different avenues of sustainability. Students have designed renewable shoes, hyper-efficient refrigeration units and biofuel production processes. Some of these products will never make it beyond the prototype stage, but that's not the point. EPA has created an environment for innovation, a place where top minds can see how their ideas compare to others. America's innovative capital increases manifold, and again our future gets a little bit brighter.

Probably the best use of government resources to spur innovation and capital comes from New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg and the City of New York are accepting proposals from universities across the globe for a land grant to build a graduate school in New York City. Currently, Cornell University and Stanford University are competing for the space meant for students across the globe to come and leran about business, technology and innovation.

Intellectual and innovation capital are gifts that keep on giving. They allow for growth and development in ways not previously considered. Based loosely on Silicon Valley and the surrounding community, Bloomberg hopes to grow new kinds of sustainable capital on the underused Roosevelt Island. The NYC Economic Development Corporation estimates the graduate school could bring in over $6 billion in economic activity throughout NYC's five boroughs and 22,000 permanent jobs.

Many see NYC as the heart of America's economy, and Bloomberg's idea certainly solidifies this conception. More importantly, Bloomberg's idea relies on the tried and true method of using innovation to drive our economy—something we sorely need.

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