NREL Challenge

 14,589

Solar District Cup 2022

Challenging multidisciplinary student teams to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district.

This challenge is closed

stage:
Finalist Teams Announced
prize:
Connections, Pride & Experience!

This challenge is closed

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 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.        

            

APPROACH

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.

 

PREVIOUS PROGRAMS

The Solar District Cup launched in 2019 through April 2020. Learn more about the past cohorts 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 

 

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.

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

Timeline
Updates 12

Challenge Updates

Solar Energy Technologies Office Science and Technology Policy Fellowship Opportunity

Jan. 10, 2022, 3:40 p.m. PST by Jackie Petre

Are you a solar student, researcher, or professional? The Solar Office at the U.S. Department of Energy is accepting applications to its Science and Technology Policy Fellowship. Apply by Jan. 15 for consideration. 

Through the Science and Technology Policy Fellowship, you can work for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office (SETO) to advance solar technologies and deployment! Selected participants will play an integral role in designing and implementing new initiatives to make solar energy more affordable and reliable. Fellows will support office-wide research, demonstration, and development efforts, in photovoltaic, concentrating solar-thermal power, and grid integration technologies, as well as solar manufacturing, behavioral science, data analysis, environmental justice, and stakeholder outreach. 

This is an excellent opportunity to apply skills learned through the Solar District Cup to a solar-focused position with the Energy Department! 

Fellows are encouraged to use their skills to offer new perspectives and unconventional approaches to challenges within SETO. Direct background in solar energy is not required, but strong candidates will have skill sets that can directly transfer to the work done at SETO. Conducting technical research and creating federal policy are outside the scope of SETO and this fellowship.

SETO is interested in candidates with backgrounds including but not limited to physical and natural sciences, social science, engineering, policy, and entrepreneurship. Fellows are selected for their strong technical and/or analytical backgrounds according to their education level and work experience. Selected candidates will receive a competitive stipend.

Learn more and apply for the Science and Technology Fellowship by Saturday, Jan. 15


Announcing the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Finalists!

Dec. 17, 2021, 9:07 a.m. PST by Jackie Petre

After several months of hard work creating solar system designs for three distinct district use cases, 35 teams from 39 collegiate institutions have been selected as finalists in the 2021-2022 edition of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition! 

The collegiate institutions continuing as finalists in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 are:

  • Alfred University
  • Ana G. Méndez University, Gurabo Campus
  • Appalachian State University
  • Arizona State University
  • Boise State University
  • Broward College
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Columbia University
  • Creighton University
  • Drexel University
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Illinois State University
  • Miami University
  • Michigan State University
  • NC State University
  • Northeast Lakeview College
  • Ohio Northern University
  • Oregon State University-Cascades
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  • San Antonio College
  • Santa Clara University
  • Southern Illinois University
  • Stony Brook University
  • Tennessee State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas Southern University
  • The Ohio State University
  • The University of Arizona
  • The University of Minnesota Duluth
  • The University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio
  • University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Denver
  • University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison

Congratulations to these finalist teams! They are now competing against the other finalist teams within each of their assigned divisions to create optimized solar + storage solutions for their campus or urban district. Students will design and model optimized distributed energy systems for one of the following district use cases:

  • Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • The Ohio State University.

In April 2022, teams will present their projects to a panel of judges at a live virtual event. Judges will identify the first-, second-, and third-place teams in each division and virtual event attendees will vote to choose a Project Pitch winner from amongst the three first place teams. 

With so much development in education, networking, and presentation skills throughout the competition, we’re confident all our competitors will walk away as champions of the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022!

Learn more about the Class of 2021-2022 competition and sign up for Solar District Cup newsletter updates


Announcing the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Starting Lineup

Sept. 29, 2021, 2:27 p.m. PDT by Joe Simon

We are excited to announce that 65 teams from 64 collegiate institutions are participating in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022! This is the largest cohort of teams and schools the program has had since it began in 2019. The class of competitors includes students and faculty advisors from across the country.

“As we work to achieve aggressive climate goals over the next few years, the need for creative energy solutions and a dedicated, passionate workforce is greater than ever,” said Garrett Nilsen, acting director of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. “The work these students are doing through the Solar District Cup is so valuable in preparing them for careers in the energy industry and beyond. I’m excited to see the designs that come out of this cohort of participants.”

Please join us in welcoming the following collegiate institutions as participants in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022: 

  • Alfred University
  • Ana G. Méndez University, Gurabo Campus
  • Appalachian State University
  • Arizona State University
  • Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
  • Bergen Community College
  • Boise State University
  • California State University, Los Angeles
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Clark Atlanta University
  • Columbia University
  • Cornell University
  • Creighton University
  • Drexel University
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Grambling State University
  • Illinois State University
  • Miami University
  • Michigan State University
  • Morehouse College
  • NC State University
  • New York University
  • Northeast Lakeview College
  • Norwich University
  • Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College
  • Ohio Northern University
  • Oregon State University-Cascades
  • Pittsburg State University
  • Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
  • San Antonio College
  • San Jacinto College South
  • Santa Clara University
  • Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Spelman College
  • Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Stony Brook University
  • Tennessee State University
  • Texas A&M University
  • Texas Southern University
  • Texas Tech University
  • The George Washington University
  • The Ohio State University
  • The University of Alabama
  • The University of Arizona
  • The University of Memphis
  • The University of Minnesota Duluth
  • The University of Minnesota Twin Cities
  • The University of Texas at Austin
  • The University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Triton College
  • Tuskegee University
  • University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Denver
  • University of Maryland
  • University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • University of Notre Dame
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Portland
  • University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Vanderbilt University

Read the full announcement here for more details on the Class of 2021-2022.

Additionally, we are pleased to announce the three district use cases for the 2021-2022 program. Students will design and model optimized distributed energy systems for one of the following district use cases:

  • Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
  • Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • The Ohio State University.

We are thrilled to have so many teams competing from a wide variety of schools and disciplines in the Class of 2021-2022.

 Stay tuned to find out which teams advance as finalists in December!


Submit a Register Entry by 5PM ET Today, Sept. 27

Sept. 27, 2021, 10:52 a.m. PDT by Jackie Petre

Just a few hours until the 5 p.m. ET deadline to submit a register entry for your team to compete in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022! 

If someone on your team has not yet submitted a “register” entry and you plan to participate in this year’s competition, you have until 5 p.m. ET today, Sept. 27, to be counted amongst our participating teams. There is no cost to register, and travel will not be required for this cycle. 

Note: creating a “team” on HeroX is only part of the process, someone needs to complete the “entry” including answering questions like “name of your collegiate institution.” As a reminder, here’s how you can do this: 

  1. Visit https://herox.com/solardistrictcup and choose “Solve Challenge”, logging in (or creating an account) and accepting terms if prompted. Verify your account as 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.

Confused? Watch this screen recording of the process.

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.  

Once completed, you’ll receive an official welcome email from the competition organizers titled “Welcoming [name of collegiate institution] to the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022. If you are unsure of your team’s registration status, please reach out to .

All teams should plan to attend the virtual Warm-up Workshop occurring from 2–4:30 p.m. ET on Thursday, Sept. 30. In this workshop, we’ll share important information about the competition, provide tips for success, and enable you to introduce yourselves to others who have registered to participate. A workshop webinar recording will also be made available to registered teams.

Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with industry professionals and develop solutions to real-world solar system designs. Complete your team registrationby 5 p.m. ET today, Sept. 27! We look forward to having you compete! 


Register Now to Compete in the Class of 2021-2022!

Sept. 22, 2021, 7:31 p.m. PDT by Jackie Petre

There’s still time to submit a register entry indicating your school’s commitment to compete in the Solar District Cup! The registration deadline for the Class of 2021-2022 is Monday, Sept. 27, at 5 p.m. ET. The competition is entirely free and registration takes less than 5 minutes. You can add student team members at any time, even after the registration deadline. 

Still haven’t decided if you’re going to compete this year? The Solar District Cup offers students and faculty the unique opportunity to connect training, industry, and real-world challenges in a competition format. As a competitor in the Solar District Cup, students will:

  • Have access to energy tools, training, mentorship, and guest speakers
  • Play the role of a solar developer by designing real-world solar-plus-storage solutions
  • Build relationships and network with industry insiders
  • Participate in a unique team-based experience that will shape your future.

Best of all, you’ll gain a career advantage that will help you land a good job in the renewable energy industry. Alumni of the competition now hold titles such as: distribution engineer, environmental compliance coordinator, electrical engineer, energy analyst, financial analyst, implementation consultant, mechanical design engineer, PV engineer, renewable energy project developer, solar foreman, solar PV designer, sustainability analyst, and sustainable finance intern.

As you launch your careers, talking with potential employers about your multidisciplinary design, financial modeling, and presentation work will show how you understand the business, policy, and engineering behind solar energy. You’ll have the real-world experience that employers are looking for! 

It’s not too late to register your team for the Class of 2021-2022. Register to compete by visiting https://herox.com/solardistrictcup, choosing “Solve Challenge” and then complete a full “Register Entry” submission. You can add team members at any time, even after Sept. 27.

If you have not already received a welcome email from SolarDistrictCup@nrel.gov, your team registration is not complete. To ensure your team is fully registered, please follow the steps listed in the Sept. 15 HeroX Update.

We look forward to your participation! 


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