menu

NREL Challenge

 2,791

Solar District Cup

Challenging multidisciplinary student teams to design and model solar-plus-storage systems for a campus or district.
stage:
Enter
Overview

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 in engineering, finance, urban planning, sustainability, and other disciplines or degree programs to reimagine how energy is generated, managed, and used in a district.

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

Student teams assume the role of a solar-plus-storage developer to produce a conceptual design and financing proposal as well as analyze electric distribution grid interactions for a district use case. Teams compete in one of multiple divisions, each structured around a district use case. Winning teams are selected by industry judges for each division, based on the quality of their proposed solutions. The strongest submissions provide solutions that maximize the district’s energy offset and financial savings over the contracted or useful life of the system while integrating aesthetic, infrastructure, and community considerations. 

Students will present their solutions to judges at a hybrid live and remote competition event, at which the winners will be determined and announced.       

            

APPROACH

The Solar District Cup is designed 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
  • 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.

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.

 

NEW WAYS TO PARTICIPATE IN THE CLASS OF 2022-2023

New to the Class of 2022-2023 are a few updates to the way in which students can participate. The competition will accept collegiate team registration on a rolling basis, which means students can begin work and access learning resources on a timeline that best aligns with their academic calendar.  Student teams will receive their assigned district use case and access to modeling tools on a rolling basis starting August 23, 2022. Additionally, the Solar District Cup Class of 2022-2023 will allow for one-semester or two-quarter participation in the winter/spring.

Student teams will have two options for their district use cases: 

  1. Assignment to a district use case defined by competition organizers, as has been done in all previous iterations of the Solar District Cup, or
  2. A bring-your-own-district division in which students can self-select their district use case, utilizing the district’s available data on their own, with missing data synthesis support by competition organizers. All student teams choosing to bring their own district will compete in a division against other teams bringing their own districts. 

PREVIOUS PROGRAMS

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

LEARN MORE

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.

Guidelines

Challenge Guidelines

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 as a resource before the Class of 2022-2023 Rules are released. 

Note that the following information is from Class of 2021-2022. Minor updates are expected for Class of 2022-2023.

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 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.

 

WHAT TEAMS DO AND WIN

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.

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 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.

COMPETITION DELIVERABLES

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.

 

ELIGIBILITY

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.

Please see the Class of 2021-2022 Rules as a resource before the Class of 2022-2023 Rules are released. 

Note that the following information is from Class of 2021-2022. Minor updates are expected for Class of 2022-2023.

Timeline
Updates2

Challenge Updates

Mark Your Calendars for the Solar District Cup Informational Webinar

Aug. 4, 2022, 7:15 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

We’re kicking off the next round of Solar District Cup with an informational webinar on Thursday, Aug. 25, at 12 p.m. ET! Come learn more about what’s new for the competition this year, hear all the benefits of competing, and get your questions answered.

During this helpful session, competition organizers will go over the Rules, deadlines, and submission requirements. They’ll also cover this round’s new structure—including a rolling registration deadline, the option for one-semester (winter/spring) projects, and more—that will allow students and faculty to participate on the timeline that best suits their needs. 

Anyone considering joining the Solar District Cup Class of 2022-2023 is strongly encouraged to attend this webinar. Register now to save your spot!


Introducing: The Solar District Cup Class of 2022-2023

June 29, 2022, 7:19 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

The Solar District Cup competition organizers are thrilled to announce the launch of the Class of 2022-2023! You are invited to join the next year of the solar design competition as a student or faculty advisor.

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 2022-2023 program. 

The goal of this competition is to design, model, analyze, and present an innovative and cost-effective solar-plus-storage system for a campus or district. Student teams assume the role of a project  developer and work with real data to create effective solar solutions. At the end of the competition, a winner is selected from each division based on the quality of their solar energy system design.  

We are also excited to share a few changes to the competition in the Class of 2022-2023 that will allow students to participate in new ways: 

  • The Solar District Cup Class of 2022-2023 will accept collegiate team registration on a rolling basis, which means students can begin work and access learning resources on a timeline that best aligns with their academic calendar.  
  • In addition to rolling registration throughout the fall, the Class of 2022-2023 will allow for one-semester or two-quarter participation in the winter/spring.  
  • This year, students will have two options for their district use cases: (1) assignment to a district use case defined by competition organizers (as has been done in all previous iterations of the Solar District Cup), or (2) a bring-your-own-district division in which students can self-select their district use case, utilizing the district’s available data on their own.  
  • The organizers are planning for the final competition event to be an in-person or hybrid event in April 2023. Date and location are to be determined. 

If you or a student you know is interested in competing in the Class of 2022-2023, team registration is now open! Click the “Solve this Challenge” button at the top of this page to get started. 

You can also follow the competition on this HeroX page or subscribe to competition email announcements for updates on the Solar District Cup Class of 2022-2023.


Forum5
Teams1.7K
FAQ