If you were in Washington, D.C. this past week, you probably heard about or even attended our biannual Solar Decathlon. This event started in 2002—one month after I started working at the Department of Energy, as a matter of fact—and has just completed its fifth iteration. What began as fourteen schools (well, really thirteen, since one never completed the event) building solar-powered pint-size houses on the National Mall has become an international happening; this year, we had teams from China, Belgium, New Zealand, and Canada competing against teams from Maryland (the winner, by the way), New York, New Jersey, TWO teams from Florida, Virginia and more.

Though the event had been held on the National Mall in times past, this year it was held on West Potomac Park, near the FDR Memorial. Crowd estimates have yet to come in for the event in total, but attendance seems to have been strong and house visits were close to 300,000.

Think about this: right this moment, the Solar Decathlon team is getting ready to sign up teams for 2013. Teams of volunteers will gather, plans will be drafted and fundraising begun. It’s the start of an all-new two-year race to the next event, even though this year’s houses aren’t fully disassembled yet. It takes that level of commitment, focus, and energy to make these things happen.

Why do it? Because the results can transform the world. Students are developing the next generation of building technology; add cutting-edge solar energy generation, and these are houses that have much less need for the nation’s electrical grid. They are creating residential areas that are unbelievably efficient and powered by renewable energy; these are literally the homes of tomorrow.

And that’s what this race is all about. Not just a sprint to the next event, but a marathon as we move our entire nation into the future. It’s a race we’re all running, but these students—these amazing kids—are the ones taking the lead.

If you haven’t visited the event, you can catch the highlights by visiting the Solar Decathlon website. Make plans to visit in 2013. Details coming soon.

Drew Bittner is the web project manager for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and co-chair of the Department of Energy's Web Council.