NREL Challenge

Solar District Cup

Solar District Cup

Challenging multidisciplinary student teams to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district.
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 optimized 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 the 2020 Solar Power Southeast conference in Atlanta, where 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.. 



To learn more about the Solar District Cup 2020, review the recorded Kick-off Webinar from Aug. 15, 2019. You can also read the competition Rules, available under the Resources tab, and register your team by choosing “Accept Challenge” on this page. Team registration is open through Sept. 12, 2019. Team registrations must be submitted by this deadline, although additional team members can be added at any time.

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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.


Problem Statement

The Solar District Cup 2020 challenge is to:

Design a solar-plus-storage system for a district that maximizes energy offset and financial savings over 20 years. 

The Solar District Cup has three divisions. Each division has at least six teams competing against each other. Each division has a distinct use case of an existing mixed-use urban district or campus interested in pursuing increased distributed energy development. The competition organizers provide each team with the details of the district use case for the division in which the team is competing.

A district use case is a defined area served by an electrical distribution feeder with a collection of buildings, open space, parking, and infrastructure.


What Teams Will Do and Win

The goal for each team is to design a solar-plus-storage system for a campus or urban district. Competitors analyze electric distribution grid interactions and assume the role of renewable energy systems developers to produce a power purchase agreement proposal for their division’s district.

The winning teams in each division of the Solar District Cup 2020 receive a trophy and national recognition. Additionally, one team is identified as the industry choice winner. All student competitors gain valuable experience with real-life examples of innovative renewable energy design. Competitors learn to use leading industry software, present to nationally respected judges, and engage with industry. 


How Judging Will Work

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 judging statements listed in the Rules. The judging panel for each division selects a first-, second-, and third-place team for each division. The judging panel makes their selections through a subjective evaluation based on their expertise and experience.


Competition Deliverables

The competition deliverables comprise a proposal similar to a power purchase agreement request for proposals response and must contain the following elements:

Progress Deliverable Package – Solar PV System:

  • Conceptual system design—layout, specifications, and energy production
  • Distribution system impact analysis—power flow model and approach
  • Financial analysis
  • Development plan—building and site plan, and construction plan.

Final Deliverable Package – Solar PV + Battery Electric Storage System:

  • Conceptual system design—layout, specifications, energy production, and battery cycles
  • Distribution system impact analysis—power flow model and approach
  • Financial analysis—financial narrative and model
  • Development plan—building and site plan, and construction and development plan
  • Optimization strategy narrative and presentation.



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 but must be legally residing in the United States at the time of the competition. Members of the judging panels, competition organizer staff, and DOE 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 work, count as elective or independent study course credit, be added to the curriculum of existing classes, or be considered an extracurricular student activity. 

To learn more, please review the official Solar District Cup 2020 Rules.

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