Taking part in the Solar Decathlon Middle East comes with a big challenge: its taking place in Dubai. For us Dutchies who have never even been there it is very hard to imagine the climate, culture and sheer magnitude of this city. Luckily, thanks to the Solar Decathlon organisation and our uni, two of us, me and Bauke, were able to go to Dubai to see it with our own eyes.
The main reason for our visit was the World Green Economy Summit, the conference where, amongst other things, all participating teams would be announced. Before arriving in Dubai, we knew absolutely nothing about the identity of the teams, except for our own. In fact, we knew very little altogether, except that we were expected in the hotel lobby at 15:00 to go to a rehearsal where we might or might not have to say something on stage. So, a little before three, just to be sure, we arrived at the hotel lobby. We were looking around searchingly trying to find anyone that looked like they might have something to do with the Solar Decathlon, but had no idea what someone like that might look like. In the end, we found no one. So we started asking around, and eventually decided to check the email with the times again, only to find out that a few hours before, an email had been sent to postpone the meeting by an hour.
With renewed courage we arrived in the lobby again at four, and we were more lucky this time. The first person we met was Daniel, the delegate from the Romanian team. We sat with him for a while until other delegates slowly started dripping in. We met the delegates from Jordan, Italy, Malaysia, Serbia, France, the United Arab Emirates of course, Australia, Taiwan, Pakistan, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The USA was late. 22 teams in total, so quite some competition, although nothing could be felt from that throughout the whole week. Everybody was open, welcoming and perfectly nice.
That day we learned our first lesson about the UAE culture: timeliness is not an issue. Arriving at the rehearsal an hour late, we were asked to wait there for at least two more, only to learn that the rehearsal actually could not be done that day but would take place early next morning. First we were asked to arrive at the venue at 9:00 the following morning, this turned into 8:30 and finally 8:00. The next morning everyone ended up arriving at 8:30. I myself, not being part of this ceremony came in at nine (the ceremony was supposed to start at ten). When I arrived, all delegates were still sitting waiting to start rehearsing and I sat with them for at least another half hour when something finally happened. The opening had been pushed back to 11:00 at this point.
After practising walking onto the stage with a flag a few times, the opening ceremony started. It was a ceremony that we could be proud to be part of: our announcement was placed amongst speakers like NASA astronaut Dr. Donald Thomas, Helen Clark, Akon and founder of the Solar Decathlon, Richard King.
The rest of the day was left to explore the conference halls with stands from companies in all fields related to sustainability and technology. We met various interesting people, and some quite enthusiastic about helping the Netherlands win the Solar Decathlon!
In the evening a dinner was organised for all Solar Decathlon organisers and team delegates. This took place in the amazing and exquisite restaurant at the hotel we stayed at. At this point the group of students as well as organisers was quite a close one, making it a very enjoyable dinner amongst friends.
On the following morning, some private sessions were organised for just the Solar Decathlon people. Here, we got some much-desired information about what the upcoming two years are going to look like, what the Solar Decathlon organisation attaches most value to and what some common pitfalls were for previous teams. The magnitude of the task ahead of us became ever so much more clear in these lectures and question rounds.
In the afternoon, there was room for some lighter activity. We visited the historical city of Dubai with the whole group. To be honest, I didn’t really know Dubai still had a historical city, and I actually turned out not to be completely wrong: the city has been partly destroyed in 1980 and was then rebuild. Nevertheless, it was interesting and inspiring to see the historical architecture and how it dealt with the intense heat and humidity that is omnipresent in Dubai.
After this trip, we had time for another one, and with a few students as well as Richard ‘Founder of Solar Decathlon’ King we went to visit the Dubai Mall and Burj Kalifa by night. If we were surprised by the size of buildings in the WTC district, we really did not know what to do with ourselves here. We arrived at the foot of the Burj Kalifa when it was right in the middle of one of its light shows. It was an explosion of colour and light against a jet black sky. We stood gaping at it in amazement for a while until it returned to its tranquil sparkling. We had just missed the fountain show, which gave us some time to explore the Dubai mall before returning.
Exploring really is the right word for this mall. You could probably have a completely safari excursion within its limits, there is so much to see. Personally I would be happy just window shopping in the super luxury district and watching the people that actual shop there, but there is also plenty to see in terms of actual wildlife. The Dubai mall is home to an enormous aquarium, housing sharks of over 2 meters long and rays that could probably cover the king sized bed in the hotel room easily.
When it comes to water, Dubai loves its water features. The meters long waterfalls with sculptures diving along it inside the mall were nothing compared to the fountain show in front of the Burj Kalifa. Accompanied by traditional music a true water ballet took place right in front of us.
We had time for a beautiful dinner in a Lebanese restaurant before returning to the hotel for our last night of sleep in Dubai. The next morning there really was too little time to visit anything else before having to go to the airport, although I did try to go to the Marina. I don’t think I ended up finding it, but did see part of this other city centre, with even more skyscrapers that somehow just pop up out of nowhere. It is hard to imagine how it is possible that something so big is so invisible from a distance.
In general, this trip gave us a true sense of the level of excess that is Dubai. Nothing is impossible in this city, and they can prove it. Hopefully we can add something to it by proving with our house that, in the field of sustainability, nothing is impossible either.