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Solar District Cup

Class of 2024-2025: Challenging multi-disciplinary student teams to design and model solar-plus-storage systems for a campus or district.
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Summary

OVERVIEW

Welcome to the Solar District Cup Class of 2024-2025!

WHAT IT IS: The Solar District Cup is a collegiate competition that challenges multidisciplinary student teams to design and model distributed energy systems for a mixed-use campus or district—groups of buildings served by a common electrical distribution feeder. 

The competition engages students across disciplines—engineering, finance, urban planning, sustainability, communications, and more—to reimagine how energy is generated, managed, and used in a district. 


HOW IT WORKS: Student teams assume the role of a solar developer to produce conceptual designs, financing, and project development planning in a solar-plus-storage proposal for a district use case. 

Over the course of the competition, students receive training from solar-industry experts from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and partner companies. Students also receive free access to leading industry tools to enable successful solar system design and financial modeling. 

Teams compete in one of multiple divisions. Students submit deliverable packages for evaluation and present their solutions to judges live at an online competition event.

Winning teams from each division are selected by industry judges based on the quality of students’ proposed solutions. Judges are looking for winning proposals that maximize the district’s energy offset and financial savings over the contracted or useful life of the system while also integrating aesthetic, infrastructure, and community considerations.  


WHY JOIN THIS COMPETITION?

The Solar District Cup seeks to inspire students to consider new career opportunities, learn industry-relevant skills, engage with the professional marketplace, and prepare to lead the next generation of workforce in distributed solar energy.

As competitors, students:

  • Gain experience with innovative renewable energy design
  • Practice with industry-leading tools used every day in solar development 
  • Engage with industry professionals to forge connections and transition to the solar energy workforce
  • Develop real-world solutions that shape the future of solar energy.

PREVIOUS PROGRAMS

The Solar District Cup originated in 2019. Learn more about the past classes of competitors, including winners and district use cases: 

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the competition: 

The Solar District Cup is directed and administered by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), and is funded by the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office. Learn more.


GUIDELINES

The Rules document provides a framework for student effort, team submittal requirements, and judging evaluation. These were the official Class of 2023-2024 Rules (updated Jan. 17, 2024). Organizers will publish official Rules for the class of 2024-2025 in August 2024. 

GOAL

The goal for each team is to design a solar energy system for a campus or district that maximizes energy offset and financial savings during the contracted (if power purchase agreement [PPA] or lease) or useful (if cash purchase) life of the system.

Competition teams analyze electric distribution grid interactions and assume the role of renewable energy system developers to produce a PPA, lease, and/or cash purchase proposal for their division’s district.

The Solar District Cup has multiple divisions. Each division has a set of teams that compete against each other. 

Each team is tasked to design a solution for a use case of an existing mixed-use district or campus interested in increased distributed energy development. For most divisions, the competition organizers provide teams with the details of their division’s district use case. Continuing in the Class of 2024–2025, there is a division in which student teams identify their own defined district use case of electricity load and site data.

A district use case is a defined geographic area served by one or more electrical distribution feeders, with a collection of spaces potentially available for PV installation, including but not limited to building rooftops, façades, open land, parking, agricultural dual use, bodies of water, and other facilities or spaces. 

HOW JUDGING WORKS

A qualified panel of three judges—comprised of subject-matter experts and representatives from the partner district use cases selected by the competition organizers—score finalist submissions. The following were judging statements judges used to evaluate Final Deliverable Packages for the Class of 2023-2024: 

  • PROJECT PROPOSAL - The proposal presents a clear and concise summary of the project. Both the proposal and the presentation make a compelling case for why the proposed solution is the best choice for the district given its needs, constraints, and goals.
  • CONCEPTUAL SYSTEM DESIGN - Conceptual system design proposes creative and innovative solution that demonstrates excellent analysis, system design, optimal battery use strategy, and understanding of the PV hosting capacity with distribution constraints.
  • FINANCIAL ANALYSIS - Financial analyses communicate a strong grasp of renewable energy project finance. Input assumptions are justifiable, calculations are correct, battery operation strategy delivers maximum economic benefits, and pricing and rate of return are attractive to the market. The outputs of both the battery analysis and the customer savings analysis are included as tabs in the Excel-based financial model.
  • DEVELOPMENT PLAN - Proposed building, site, construction, and development plans with any rezoning add significant value in a comprehensive, actionable, and feasible approach for the district, authorities having jurisdiction, and surrounding community members with distributional equity

COMPETITION DELIVERABLES

Teams participating for the full academic year are expected to submit two deliverables: a Progress Deliverable Package part way through the competition and a Final Deliverable Package. Teams that submit the Progress Deliverable receive feedback from the organizer staff.

Student teams participating for just the spring semester (or winter and spring quarters) compete within their own division and submit only the Final Deliverable Package in April.

Competition deliverables are submitted via the online HeroX competition platform. Details about what teams were meant to include in each of the deliverables will be available in the official Class of 2024-2025 Rules. 

ELIGIBILITY

The Solar District Cup invites teams with at least three students enrolled in accredited U.S.-based collegiate institutions to participate. Students must be enrolled in at least one class and must be pursuing a degree during the competition. Note that graduating during the competition period does not disqualify team members.

To be eligible to present to judges, team members must not have graduated any earlier than the fall semester or quarter immediately preceding the final competition event. Students and faculty advisors are not required to be U.S. citizens at the time of the competition. Judges, competition organizer staff, and DOE and national laboratory employees are ineligible to compete.

Although any level of collegiate student is eligible to compete, the scope is intended to be challenging for multidisciplinary teams of upper-level undergraduate students. Student participation may be integrated into a senior design or capstone project, count as elective or independent study course credit, be added to the curriculum of existing classes, be treated as a seminar topic, be engaged as part of a student interest club, or be an extracurricular student activity.

Each team is encouraged to have at least one faculty advisor, but this is not required for participation. Teams are also encouraged to connect with mentors inside or outside their school. If a team of students needs assistance in identifying a mentor or faculty advisor at their institution, they can contact the competition organizers for help. 

By uploading a deliverable package, a team certifies that it complies with the eligibility requirements. If the organizers become aware that a team or individual is not eligible, that team may be disqualified from the competition.

Timeline
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Teams2.6K
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