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.

Subscribe to competition emails or .


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.

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Challenge Updates

The Solar District Cup Story

Dec. 20, 2019, 10:45 a.m. PST by Jackie Petre

Recently, the U.S. Department of Energy announced the 35 teams from 32 collegiate institutions continuing as finalists in the Solar District Cup 2020. But what else have teams accomplished in the first half of competition? 

A new NREL story takes an inside look at competition updates, the progress teams have made, and the partners who are working alongside students to help jump-start their careers. 

“As we see the amount of solar and other distributed energy resources transforming the grid, new designs to operate electricity use on the distribution system are critical,” Director of the Department of Energy’s Solar Energy Technologies Office Dr. Becca Jones-Albertus says. “I can't wait to see what ideas the teams and their partners come up with now and in future competitions.”

From team development to the partners helping students gain a better understanding of the solar industry, the Solar District Cup 2020 and its participants are already seeing success. Read the full story here!

Announcing the Solar District Cup 2020 Finalists!

Dec. 12, 2019, 8:50 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 32 collegiate institutions have been selected as finalists in the 2020 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 2020 are:

Alfred University 
Appalachian State University 
Arizona State University 
Brown University 
California Polytechnic State University 
California State University, Los Angeles 
Clemson University 
Colorado School of Mines 
Cornell University 
Creighton University 
Dartmouth College 
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University 
Florida International University 
Georgia Institute of Technology 
Hanover College 
Illinois Institute of Technology 
Indiana University--Purdue University Indianapolis 
Marquette University 
Missouri University of Science and Technology 
New Mexico State University 
Northern Arizona University 
Santa Clara University 
The Ohio State University 
The University of Arkansas 
The University of Massachusetts Lowell 
The University of Virginia 
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York 
University of Cincinnati 
University of Colorado Boulder 
University of South Florida 
West Virginia University
Western Washington University

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.

In April 2020, teams will present their projects to a panel of judges at Solar and Energy Storage Southeast in Atlanta. Judges will identify the first-, second-, and third-place teams in each division and Solar and Energy Storage Southeast attendees will vote to choose an industry choice 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 2020!

Learn more about the 2020 competition. 

The Solar District Cup 2020 Starting Lineup!

Sept. 19, 2019, 2:50 p.m. PDT by NREL Challenge


We are excited to announce that 61 teams from 52 collegiate institutions are participating in the Solar District Cup 2020! Find out which schools are competing. The inaugural class of competitors includes students and faculty advisors from across the country. We are thrilled to have so many teams competing from a wide variety of schools and disciplines!

Ready, Set, Go!

Sept. 13, 2019, 2:05 p.m. PDT by Joe Simon

Thanks for submitting your team “register” entries, now it’s time to view the Kick-off Webinar and read the Rules! We are blown away by the high volume of teams that will be participating in the inaugural Solar District Cup! We will announce a full list of participating collegiate institutions by Sept. 19 on our official informational web page

Registration to compete in the Solar District Cup 2020 is now closed to new teams. However, new team members can be added to an existing team at any time. 

Each team’s primary contact should have received a welcome email from . Review the email to find the code for free conference registration and plan to attend our optional Warmup Workshop on Sept. 23 at Solar Power International.

Watch for a message coming next week from the organizers with your team’s Division and District Use Case Assignment. We are also excited to share that Aurora Solar will be providing each team with a free account to assist with your system design. Information on how to access will be provided by the organizers soon, please do not contact Aurora Solar directly. 

Thanks again to all registered teams. Let the competition begin!

Submit Your Team’s “Register Entry” and Join Us at the Warmup Workshop at Solar Power International!

Sept. 10, 2019, 3:39 p.m. PDT by NREL Challenge


Team registration for the Solar District Cup closes Sept. 12 at 5 p.m. ET and our  optional Warmup Workshop at Solar Power International is less than two weeks away! On Monday, Sept. 23, dozens of student team members and faculty advisors participating in the Solar District Cup 2020 will join us in Salt Lake City, and we’d love to see you there.

For those who attend the Warmup Workshop, here’s what to expect at the event:

·       8:30 a.m. – Welcome and opening remarks

·       8:45 a.m. – Introduction to the Solar District Cup

·       9:15 a.m. – Know Your Division: District Use Case Review

·       9:30 a.m. – Starting Lineups: Team Introductions

·       10:30 a.m. – Top 10 Tips to Take Home Glory

·       11:00 a.m. – Learning from the Pros: District Example, with a special guest speaker from industry

·       11:45 a.m. – Conclude

A free Solar Power International conference registration code will be sent to each team’s primary contact upon team registration on HeroX. You’ll have access to the conference show floor and all educational sessions, as well as the opportunity to network with approximately 20,000 attendees from the solar industry. We recommend that you register as soon as possible and start booking travel accommodations immediately.

Even if you’ve personally created an account on HeroX or joined a team, don’t forget that one team member must submit a “register” entry on HeroX by Sept. 12 at 5 p.m. ET.! Additional team members can be added after the Sept. 12 deadline.

We hope to see you in Salt Lake City!

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