NREL Challenge


Solar District Cup 2022

Challenging multidisciplinary student teams to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district.
Rules Published
Connections, Pride & Experience!

Challenge Overview

Welcome to the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition!

The Solar District Cup challenges multidisciplinary student teams to design and model distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district. These systems integrate solar, storage, and other distributed energy capabilities across mixed-use districts, or groups of buildings served by a common electrical distribution feeder. The competition engages students across the engineering, urban planning, and finance disciplines to reimagine how energy is generated, managed, and used in a district.

Teams compete in one of multiple divisions, each structured around a distinct district use case. A winner is selected for each division, based on the quality of their solar energy system design. The strongest designs provide the highest offset of annual energy and greatest financial savings. This will be determined by a techno-economic analysis conducted by students and evaluated by judges. The goal is to design, model, and present the most reliable, resilient, and cost-effective system possible.

Students will present their solutions to judges at a virtual live competition event, from which the winners will be selected and announced.        



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

  • Build experience with innovative renewable energy design
  • Develop real-world solutions that shape the future of solar energy
  • Engage with industry professionals to forge relationships and connections that aid participating students’ transition to the solar energy workforce upon graduation
  • Compete to earn national recognition upon winning a Solar District Cup and/or being selected as an industry choice winner.

The Solar District Cup encourages collaboration between academia and industry. The program seeks to establish public-private partnership and demonstrate corporate and nonprofit industry co-sponsorship.



The Solar District Cup launched in 2019 through April 2020. Learn more about the past cohorts of competitors, including winners and district use cases: 


To learn more about the program and the current 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.


Challenge Guidelines


The rules document provides a framework for student activities, student team submittal requirements, and judging evaluation. Please see the Class of 2021-2022 Rules 



The goal for each team is to design a solar-plus-storage system for a campus or district that maximizes energy offset and financial savings over the contracted or useful life of the system. Competition teams assess electric distribution grid interactions and assume the role of renewable energy systems developers to produce a power purchase agreement (PPA), lease, and/or cash purchase proposal for their division’s district.

The Solar District Cup has multiple divisions. Each division has at least six teams competing against each other. Each division is assigned a use case of an existing mixed-use urban district or campus in need of increased distributed energy development. The competition organizers provide each team with the details of their division’s district use case. A district use case is a defined 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, facades, open land, bodies of water, parking, and other infrastructure.



Teams submit two deliverables: a Progress Deliverable Package and a Final Deliverable Package.

A team competes against other teams in a division, and each division has a single district use case. Competition organizers assign teams to divisions upon registration. Each team designs its own solution for the assigned division’s district use case. The strongest team concepts are those that maximize the district’s energy offset and financial savings over the system’s contracted or useful lifetime while integrating aesthetic and community considerations. A team wins based on its average score as determined by a panel of three to five judges who evaluate the competition entries through review of deliverable packages and presentations. The first-place winners of each division compete against each other to determine a project pitch winner. 

As competitors, students:

  • Gain experience with innovative renewable energy design
  • Develop real-world solutions that shape the future of solar energy
  • Engage with industry professionals to forge relationships and connections that aid participating students’ transition to the solar energy workforce upon graduation
  • Compete to earn a trophy and national recognition.


A qualified panel of three to five judges—comprising subject-matter experts and representatives from the partner district use cases selected by the competition organizers—score finalist submissions according to the extent to which they agree that the content and formatting requirements were met and with the solution aligns with the judging statements listed below:

  • PROJECT PROPOSAL - The proposal presents a clear and concise summary of the project. Both the proposal and the presentation make a compelling case as to why the proposed solution is the best choice for the district given its needs, constraints, and goals.
  • CONCEPTUAL SYSTEM DESIGN - Conceptual system design proposes  a creative and innovative solution that demonstrates excellent analysis, system design and optimal battery use strategy.
  • DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM IMPACT SUMMARY -  Report demonstrates the team’s understanding of the possible distribution impact of integrating their proposed PV system, system constraints that may limit PV hosting capacity, and the possible impact of interconnection costs. PV systems specified in the conceptual design section adhere to the hosting capacity limitations of the distribution network.
  • FINANCIAL ANALYSIS - Financial analysis communicates 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.
  • DEVELOPMENT PLAN - Proposed building, site, construction, and development plans with any rezoning adds significant value in a comprehensive, actionable, and feasible approach for the district and surrounding community.


Teams submit two deliverables: A Progress Deliverable Package and a Final Deliverable Package.

Progress Deliverable Package—Solar PV System

  • A complete submission for the progress deliverable is a design and analysis of interconnected solar PV systems that maximize energy offset and savings over the system’s contracted or useful lifetime for the division district use case.

Final Deliverable Package—Solar PV Plus Battery Electric Storage System

  • The Final Deliverable Package includes a complete conceptual design and techno-economic analysis of a proposed interconnected solar PV plus battery electric storage system that maximizes energy offset and savings over the system’s contracted or useful lifetime for the division district, given its use case parameters and conditions.



The Solar District Cup invites participation of teams composed of at least three students enrolled in accredited U.S.-based collegiate institutions. Students must be enrolled in at least one class and be pursuing a degree for the duration of the competition. Students and faculty advisors are not required to be U.S. citizens at the time of the competition. Members of the judging panels, competition organizer staff, and U.S. Department of Energy and national laboratory employees are ineligible to compete.

Although any level of collegiate student is eligible to compete, the challenge scope is intended for multidisciplinary teams of upper-level undergraduate students. Student participation may be integrated into senior design or capstone project, count as elective or independent study course credit, be added to the curriculum of existing classes, treated as a seminar topic, 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. If a team of students needs assistance in identifying a faculty advisor or mentor, they can contact the competition organizers for help.

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

All required rules are provided in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Rules 

Updates 7

Challenge Updates

Class of 2021-2022 Registration Deadline Extended

Sept. 15, 2021, 10:49 a.m. PDT by Joe Simon

The registration deadline for the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 has been extended to Monday, Sept. 27. Read the full update below for details. 

To allow for the greatest number of students to benefit from participating in the Class of 2021-2022, the competition organizers have decided to extend the registration deadline from Sept. 16 to Sept. 27. If you have not already received a welcome email from , your team registration is not complete. Teams that register by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 16 will still receive district use case assignments by Sept. 23 so that they can begin work as planned. The Warm-up Workshop will still occur on Sept. 30. 

To ensure your team is fully registered, please follow these steps: 

  1. Visit and choose “Solve Challenge”, logging in (or creating an account) and accepting terms if prompted.
  2. One team member should click on the “Begin Entry” button at the top of the HeroX page.
  3. Fill out the “Create Submission” form with all the required details.
  4. Click the “Save & Preview” button at the top of the form.
  5. Click the “Submit Final Entry” button to complete your team registration.

Once your team captain has registered your team in HeroX, you’ll receive an official welcome email from the competition organizers. If you are unsure of your team’s registration status, please reach out to .

Teams that register between Sept. 16-23 will receive their district use case assignments by Sept. 29, when the full list of participating teams will be announced. 

As soon as you register your team, please mark your calendars for the all-team Warm-up Workshop on Sept. 30. More details to follow.

We hope this registration deadline extension allows more teams to participate in the Solar District Cup’s exciting Class of 2021-2022 program. Register your team by Monday, Sept. 27, at 5 p.m. ET!

One Week Left to Register Your Team!

Sept. 9, 2021, 3:27 p.m. PDT by Jackie Petre

Only one week left until the Sept. 16 @ 5 p.m. ET deadline to submit a register entry for your team to compete in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022! As a reminder, at least one person on your team needs to submit a “register” entry on HeroX by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 16. Additional team members can be added later. There is no cost to register, and travel will not be required for this cycle.

To complete team registration:

  1. Click the “SOLVE CHALLENGE” button at the top of the page
  2. Read and “Accept” the Competitor Agreement
  3. Identify how you will be competing—creating a team, joining a pre-registered team, or competing by yourself for now – remember, your team makeup can change after Sept. 16!
  4. Click “BEGIN ENTRY” under the “Register” and fill out the submission form.

Note—you have not registered your team to compete until you fill out the “BEGIN ENTRY” form. Creating a HeroX account or following the competition does not qualify as team registration. 

We highly recommend completing team registration as soon as possible. Following team registration, you will receive a welcome email from  with instructions, access to the extensive free training videos, and next steps. All teams should plan to attend the virtual Warmup Workshop on Sept. 30.

Questions? We encourage you to view the Informational Webinar recording, check out the presentation slides, read the Rules or reach out to us directly at .  

Don’t forget to complete your team registration by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 16! We look forward to having you compete!

Rules Now Released (And Other Resources to Get Started)

Sept. 1, 2021, 12:49 p.m. PDT by Jackie Petre

The Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Rules are now available here on HeroX. Make sure you read the Rules and register your team by the Sept. 16 registration deadline! To register, choose “solve this challenge” and then complete a “register” entry. 

The future of solar energy and distributed energy systems looks bright, thanks to our next generation of forward-thinkers! We'd love to see you put your skills and brain power to the test by joining the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition for the Class of 2021-2022 program. Final presentations will be virtual this April, so there is no need to plan for travel funds.  

Do you have an interest in competing as a student or supporting a team as a faculty advisor? Here’s what you can do to prepare for competition to start in late September:  

  1. Identify your faculty advisor or team members
  2. Register your team on HeroX by Sept. 16
  3. Watch the Informational Webinar recording and share the presentation slides with your teammates
  4. Read the Rules to get familiar with deliverables and milestones
  5. Mark your calendars for the all-team Warm-Up Workshop on Sept. 30 (details to come)!

Teams have already started registering to compete in the Class of 2021-2022. Don’t miss out—read the Rules and sign your team up today on HeroX!  

Watch Now: Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Informational Webinar Recording

Aug. 19, 2021, 8 a.m. PDT by Jackie Petre

See the recording of yesterday’s Class of 2021-2022 Informational Webinar here. 

If you missed the Informational Webinar yesterday, you can now catch up on everything by watching the webinar recording. During the presentation, the competition organizers reviewed programmatic details like participation expectations, rules, timeline of events, provided training, and more. 

Whether you’re interested in participating as a student or faculty advisor, we highly recommend reviewing this webinar to get further guidance on next steps. Plus, make sure you’re following the Solar District Cup on HeroX for the latest updates.

If you have remaining questions about the competition, you can post on the HeroX forum or email .

Watch the Class of 2021-2022 Informational Webinar recording now and register your team by Sept. 16!

Think Outside the Panel — Join the Class of 2021-2022 Informational Webinar Tomorrow

Aug. 17, 2021, 9:05 a.m. PDT by Jackie Petre

Join the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Informational Webinar tomorrow, Aug. 18, at 12 p.m. ET to learn how to think outside the panel!

Solar District Cup competitors experience what it’s like to be a successful developer or designer of solar-plus-storage solutions that have real-world impact.

What better way to prepare for a career in the solar industry than by taking on the role of a solar developer to reimagine the distributed energy system for a campus or urban district? Teams are challenged to think outside the panel and develop creative solutions using actual energy data. 

The Solar District Cup connects training, industry, and real-world challenges in a competition format. Student competitors gain first-hand industry experience designing innovative energy systems, creating financial models, and pitching your final project to experts. 

This year, we’ll provide teams with free access to additional industry-leading tools, improved rules, and streamlined access to educational resources.

This is the kind of experience employers want to see on resumes. 

But don’t just take our word—here’s what a Solar District Cup alum had to say:

“I met with industry professionals and learned that this is exactly what they do for a career. I was excited to hear how relevant our work for this competition was and how it can translate to the real world.”

Continue to set yourself apart from others by challenging yourself in this exciting and career-focused program. 

Learn more about getting involved as a student participant or faculty advisor by joining the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Informational Webinar tomorrow, Aug. 18, at 12 p.m. ET. Register here for the webinar!

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Teams 1.3K