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Solar District Cup

Class of 2023-2024: Challenging multidisciplinary student teams to design and model solar-plus-storage systems for a campus or district.

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Finalist Teams Announced
prize:
Connections, Pride, & Experience

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Summary

OVERVIEW

  • Registration is closed for the Class of 2023-2024--but stay tuned for details about supporting these student teams at the Final Competition Event in April! 

Welcome to the Solar District Cup Class of 2023-2024!

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. Consult the official Class of 2023-2024 Rules (updated Jan. 17, 2024). 

GOAL

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 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 2023–2024, 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 to five judges—comprising subject-matter experts and representatives from the partner district use cases selected by the competition organizers—score finalist submissions. The following are judging statements judges will use 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 should include in each of the deliverables are available in the official Class of 2023-2024 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
Updates17

Challenge Updates

Thank You to Our Solar District Cup Partners!

Feb. 13, 2024, 9 a.m. PST by sara fall

 

The organizers of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition would like to recognize and thank our Class of 2023–2024 partners for their support and collaboration. Students competing in this competition continue to benefit from the resources provided by these partners. Because of their generous contributions, students can develop their learning and awareness of solar energy and the clean energy industry through the Solar District Cup. 

Our partners include: 

Aurora

This software company has created a cloud-based platform that uses data, automation, and artificial intelligence to streamline workflows and grow solar businesses faster. The company provides complimentary accounts with access to both Aurora Solar and HelioScope software to all competing teams for the duration of the competition, as well as customized training and hosting “office hours” sessions. 

RE+ Events 

RE+ Events, powered by Solar Energy Industries Association and the Smart Electric Power Alliance, brings clean energy leaders together in marketplaces across the United States and internationally to expand business prospects and share best practices. RE+ Events offers attendees and students year-round access to resources for growing their businesses as the industry changes, as well as opportunities to have an impact on the future of clean energy through exhibition at events and speaking opportunities at educational seminars. 

In addition to these programmatic partners, we also have several district use case partners, which change every year. The Solar District Cup Class of 2023–2024 has multiple divisions. Each student team’s effort centers on a use case of a real-world, mixed-use district or campus interested in pursuing clean energy solutions.  

The Solar District Cup would not be able to provide these district use cases without the collaboration of our Solar District Cup Class of 2023–2024 use case partners and their willingness to share valuable data with the student teams: 

  • California State University, Northridge
  • Miami University of Ohio 
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • University of Florida
  • University of Washington

Additionally, several teams have opted to define their own district use case in the “Bring-Your-Own-District” division this year, and we extend our appreciation to those use case partners for working with Solar District Cup competitors to support their success!   

Learn more about our Class of 2023–2024 partners. Thank you for helping to make the Solar District Cup such a remarkable learning opportunity!  


Congratulations to the Largest Ever Class of Finalist Teams in the Solar District Cup!

Jan. 30, 2024, 8:30 a.m. PST by sara fall

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition announced today that 60 teams from 53 schools are advancing as finalists in the Class of 2023–2024, including 17 teams from 17 schools that joined the competition for the one-semester division since December. 

"This is the largest cohort yet of Solar District Cup finalists," said Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office. "These competitors represent the next generation of talent to support the growing solar sector that is needed to meet the country’s clean energy goals. There is great creativity, innovation, and excitement in this competition, and I’m looking forward to seeing the teams' designs in April."

Class of 2023–2024 Finalists

The following list includes finalist teams who are either advancing from the initial group announced in October or starting this month in the Winter/Spring division.

The collegiate institutions competing as Class of 2023–2024 finalists are:

  • Alfred University 
  • Appalachian State University 
  • Baylor University
  • Boise State University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Central New Mexico Community College
  • Cleveland State University
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Drexel University
  • Florida A&M University
  • Franklin & Marshall College
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Houston Community College 
  • Kankakee Community College
  • Macalester College
  • Maine Maritime Academy
  • Manhattan College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Miami University
  • Navajo Technical University
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • North Carolina State University 
  • Northeastern University
  • Ohio University
  • Portland State University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Texas A&M University–College Station
  • Texas A&M University–Kingsville
  • Texas Tech University
  • The City College of New York
  • The George Washington University
  • The Pennsylvania State University
  • The State University of New York Morrisville
  • The University of Alabama
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Dayton
  • University of Houston
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Utah
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Villanova University
  • West Texas A&M University 
  • Western Washington University
  • Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Youngstown State University

"Each year, it’s rewarding to see these students embracing the challenge of designing distributed solar energy systems," said Sara Farrar, Solar District Cup co-organizer. "They get to see a solar design from so many angles in this competition—meeting the electrical load and providing the financing along with the interconnection, distributional equity, and aesthetic considerations of how solar installations can produce far-reaching benefits. We’re eager to see how their designs and analysis develop between now and April!” 

If you are interested in getting involved with the Solar District Cup as a partner, judge, or industry mentor, contact the Solar District Cup organizers!

Congrats again to the Class of 2023–2024 Finalist Teams! 


Deadline Tomorrow to Register a Team for the Solar District Cup Winter/Spring Division!

Jan. 24, 2024, 9 a.m. PST by sara fall

Tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 25 at 5 p.m. ET, is the deadline to register for the Solar District Cup Winter/Spring division! In this new division, students design and model distributed energy systems that integrate solar photovoltaics for real college campus districts (groups of buildings fed by a common electrical feeder) with financing. 

You do not have to complete any work to register a team!

To register, follow these steps at https://www.herox.com/SolarDistrictCup:

  1. If you are new to HeroX, click the “Solve this Challenge” button at the top of this page: You will receive a confirmation email about HeroX registration, but you are not yet enrolled in the competition. 
  2. Once you are registered for HeroX, click on the “Begin Entry” button at the top of the Solar District Cup main page
  3. Fill out the “Create Submission” form with the best info you have right now—your answers can be general at this time. 
  4. Click “Submit Entry” to complete your registration. 
  5. Here’s how you know you’re registered: You will receive a welcome email from the Solar District Cup organizers signaling that you are officially registered to compete in the Class of 2023-2024!

Please share this opportunity with your network! Reach out to organizers with questions at  and we will reply promptly. 

Thank you, and we hope you’ll cheer on the Solar District Cup student teams at their final competition event in April—more details soon!


 


Registration Deadline for the Winter/Spring Division is Next Week!

Jan. 18, 2024, 10 a.m. PST by sara fall

The registration deadline for the Solar District Cup Winter/Spring division is next week: Jan. 25 at 5 p.m. ET! This one-semester/two-quarter division runs from now until early May.

Access the recording from the Dec. 7 Informational Webinar to learn more about what to do and how to win. Plus, check out the official Rules for full competition requirements and eligibility.

In the Winter/Spring division, students design solar energy systems with financial modeling and pitch their designs to industry judges; students have access to industry-leading tools, training from solar experts, and mentorship from industry leaders—just like the longer competition.

You do not have to complete any work to register a team!

Follow these steps to register at https://www.herox.com/SolarDistrictCup:

  1. If you are new to HeroX, click the “Solve this Challenge” button at the top of this page: You will receive a confirmation email about HeroX registration, but you are not yet enrolled in the competition. 
  2. Once you are registered for HeroX, click on the “Begin Entry” button at the top of the Solar District Cup main page
  3. Fill out the “Create Submission” form with the best info you have right now—your answers can be general at this time. 
  4. Click “Submit Entry” to complete your registration. 
  5. Here’s how you know you’re registered: You will receive a welcome email from the Solar District Cup organizers signaling that you are officially registered to compete in the Class of 2023-2024!


Please share this opportunity with your network! Reach out to organizers with questions at 

We are excited to see who will join the Winter/Spring division of the Class of 2023–2024! 

 


Share This Opportunity: Solar District Cup Winter/Spring Registration Deadline is Jan. 25

Jan. 3, 2024, 9:05 a.m. PST by sara fall

The Winter/Spring Division of the Solar District Cup is recruiting students now until Jan. 25. If you know any collegiate students looking for a chance to set themselves apart when applying for jobs in clean energy, encourage them to join the Solar District Cup Class of 2023–2024!

Here’s what students need to know to get started: 

  • The one-semester/two-quarter division of the competition is open now and runs through early May. Student teams in this division gain experience designing solar energy systems for a real campus or district (groups of buildings served by a common electrical distribution feeder) with financing—just like the longer version of the competition. 
  • Students have access to advanced solar design tools, training from solar experts, and mentorship from industry leaders as they develop conceptual designs and financing models for their assigned district and pitch those designs to industry judges in April. 
  • View the Informational Webinar from Dec. 7 that goes over what teams will do in the competition and how to win. And follow the competition on HeroX for updates.
  • Jan. 25, 2024 is the deadline to register a team on HeroX for the Winter/Spring division! 

Help spread the word about this opportunity with your networks so students can know the benefits of engaging in this competition! If you have any questions, contact .

An exciting new division of the Solar District Cup kicks off now! 


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