NREL Prize Administrator


Solar District Cup

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

This challenge is closed

Connections, Pride, & Experience

This challenge is closed

2023-2024 Event
Partners & Judges


  • Registration is closed for the Class of 2023-2024--check out the list of winners announced on April 29 and find out more about their projects on the U.S. Department of Energy's website! And stay tuned for the Class of 2023-2024 opening for registration in May!

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.  


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.


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


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.


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). 


The goal for each team was 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 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. 


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


Teams participating for the full academic year were 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) competed within their own division and submitted only the Final Deliverable Package in April.

Competition deliverables were submitted via the online HeroX competition platform. Details about what teams were meant to include in each of the deliverables are available in the official Class of 2023-2024 Rules.


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.


Challenge Updates

Congratulations, Class of 2023–2024!

May 14, 2024, 8:08 a.m. PDT by sara fall

Congratulations to the Class of 2023–2024 U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition! On Saturday, April 27, the largest class of competing teams in the Solar District Cup proposed designs to industry judges. On Monday, April 29, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the division winners and Project Pitch Champion in the Solar District Cup's Class of 2023–2024. Seventeen division winners received first-, second-, or third-place, plus three honorable-mentions across six divisions. 


The first-place teams from each of the six divisions—Appalachian State University, Boise State University, The Pennsylvania State University, Portland State University, University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez, and the University of Utah—went on to compete for the title of Project Pitch Champion. Panel of industry judges determined the winner. 

U.S. Department of Energy Under Secretary for Science and Innovation, Dr. Geri Richmond, announced that the team from the University of Puerto Rico at Mayagüez is the Solar District Cup Class of 2023-2024 Project Pitch Champion! 


Kudos to the Project Pitch Champion team, to the division winners, and to all the teams who submitted project proposals and presented to judges! 

Thank you to the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office for their support of this program, our competition partners, this year’s Solar District Cup judges, the many industry mentors who volunteered their time to engage with this year’s teams, and, of course, the inspirational student competitors and their faculty advisors who brought their passion to this competition. Your enthusiasm makes this competition shine year after year! 

Thank you for making this a record year for the competition!


Grads and near-grads, don’t forget to check out the Jobs board in HeroX. For those of you continuing your degree program next year, we hope to see you soon for the Solar District Cup Class of 2024–2025! Stay tuned to HeroX for details.


Division Winners Announced! Join at 2p.m. ET today to watch the Pitch Championship!

April 29, 2024, 9:04 a.m. PDT by sara fall

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced division first-, second-, and third-place winners, as well as honorable mentions. And this afternoon, the public is invited to cheer on teams for the Project Pitch Championship! The top six teams (placing first in each competition division) will go head-to-head in six-minute project pitches. A panel of industry experts will adjudicate the Project Pitch Champion! 

Register to join the Pitch Championship at 2-3:15 p.m. EDT today!

The winning teams in each division are as follows: 

Bring-Your-Own-District Division

1st Place: Portland State University

2nd Place: Manhattan College

3rd Place: University of Pennsylvania

California State University, Northridge, Division.

1st Place: University of Utah

2nd Place: Villanova University

3rd Place: The George Washington University

Miami University Use Case Division 

1st Place: Appalachian State University

2nd Place: Macalester College

3rd Place: The Solar Dragons Team from Drexel University 

Honorable Mention: Northeastern University

University of Florida Use Case Division.

1st Place: The Ray Catchers Team from Boise State University 

2nd Place: Kankakee Community College

University of Texas at Dallas Use Case Division.

1st Place: University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez

2nd Place: The University of Alabama

3rd Place: North Carolina State University

Honorable Mention: The EcoDragons Team from Drexel University

University of Washington Use Case Division.

1st Place: The Pennsylvania State University

2nd Place: Texas A&M University

3rd Place: Columbia University

Honorable Mention: University of Colorado Boulder



Cheer on Teams at the Class of 2023-2024 Pitch Championship On Monday!

April 25, 2024, 9:30 a.m. PDT by sara fall

On Monday, April 29, the top three teams in each competition division will be announced at 11 a.m. ET, and then the 1st-place teams get a few hours to prepare their 8-minute project pitch to their peers, a public audience, and a panel of industry judges, who will determine this year’s Project Pitch Champion. 

Join us on April 29 at 2–3:15 p.m. ET to cheer on your favorite team! 


Don’t miss the chance to see these student leaders shaping the future of solar in this live virtual event. Learn more about the Class of 2023-2024 U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition Final Competition Event and join the Pitch Championship to watch the students make their case and see who will be crowned the Class of 2023-2024 Project Pitch Champion!

You’re Invited: Join Solar District Cup Competition Event April 27–29

April 18, 2024, 9 a.m. PDT by sara fall

Student teams competing in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition Class of 2023–2024 have been diligently working on their solar and solar-plus-storage projects. Now, they’re getting ready to pitch their proposals to their competition peers and solar industry judges at the Competition Event taking place April 27–29, 2024. 

Student teams across multiple divisions will participate in a two-day, three-part event where they will present their solar proposals to a panel of industry judges, find out the winners in each division, and compete for the title of Project Pitch Champion. The schedule of events includes: 

  • Saturday, April 27
    • 12 – 6 p.m. EDT - Solar District Cup Division Presentations to Judges
  • Monday, April 29
    • 11 – 11:30 a.m. EDT - Solar District Cup Division Winners Announcement
    • 2 – 3:15 p.m. EDT - Solar District Cup Pitch Championship

On Monday, April 29, Dr. Becca Jones-Albertus, U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office director, will join the Division Winners Announcement to make welcome remarks and award the first-, second-, and third-place winners and honorable mentions in each division. Then, the 1st-place teams from each of the six divisions will present a 6-minute project pitch to their peers, a public audience, and a panel of industry judges. Dr. Geri Richmond, Under Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science and Innovation, will give the keynote remarks and announce the Project Pitch Champion! 

Join us to cheer on your favorite team! 

Register to join the Pitch Championship, watch the students make their case, and see which team will become this year’s Project Pitch Champion!


Don’t miss this chance to witness these student leaders shaping the future of solar in this live virtual event

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: 


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!  

2023-2024 Event
Partners & Judges