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.
CLASS OF 2020
The Solar District Cup Class of 2020 competed from September 2019 to April 2020. Student teams designed and modeled optimized distributed energy systems for their assigned district use case. The 2020 district use case partners were Ball State University, JBG SMITH, and New Mexico State University.
From September to November 2019, the Solar District Cup Class of 2020 involved students and faculty advisors from 61 teams, representing 52 collegiate institutions as participating teams. These students built their portfolios with experience by developing solutions to the renewable energy needs of campuses or urban districts.
After successfully demonstrating their progress and meeting the requirements of the Progress Deliverable Package, students and faculty advisors from 35 teams, representing 32 collegiate institutions, earned positions as Solar District Cup 2020 finalists.
The finalists moved on to compete in the second half of competition and prepared to submit their Final Deliverable Package. On April 26, 2020, the Solar District Cup held its 2020 competition event. Through a live video conference, 26 competing teams presented to a panel of judges in their district use case divisions. Each team had 15 minutes to present, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the judges.
On April 27, 2020, the third-, second-, and first-place winners in each division were announced. Following this announcement, the three first-place teams gave 8-minute presentations to a public audience, who voted on their favorite team to win the Industry Choice Award.
THE SOLAR DISTRICT CUP CLASS OF 2020 WINNERS
Crystal Parks District Use Case Division
1st Place,Dartmouth College: This team proposed that Crystal Parks remain on Dominion Schedule 10 and install a photovoltaic- (PV) only system with a flat power purchase agreement (PPA) rate resulting in estimated savings of $273,000 over 20 years. To have 100% of their load covered by renewable energy, Dartmouth College recommended a virtual PPA in addition to the on-site PPA to cover the remaining load.
2nd Place, Colorado School of Mines: This team designed two solar solutions for the Crystal Parks district, including rooftop PV systems for all five buildings with approximately 160- to 290-kW of PV on each rooftop and an off-site PV system located at the decommissioned I-66 landfill 23 miles west of Arlington, VA, capable of offsetting approximately 100% of the district’s energy usage when combined with the five rooftop systems.
3rd Place, Cornell University: This team’s final solution achieved approximately 1.5-MW maximum (1.55213-MW, 1.940016-MWh per year) of solar energy produced through a five-building rooftop system, carports, solar flowers, and solar kiosks. The final solution also incorporated the opportunity for a 50-kW (100-kWh) battery storage system, which would provide enough power to sustain the district's emergency life systems for a minimum of an hour and a half.
New Mexico State University (NMSU) District Use Case Division
1st Place, University of Cincinnati: This team’s ground-mount PV and battery storage system was proposed approximately 1.5 miles east of NMSU’s Campus Park, near the Geothermal Substation. The system consisted of a 3.3-MW PV array and a 4-MWh battery storage system. A second PV system was also proposed, which included a 295-kW carport array with six canopies. For each canopy, 365-W monocrystalline Canadian Solar Inc. modules were selected.
2nd Place, West Virginia University: This team’s final system design consisted of three subsystems: a 278-kW fixed horizontal tilt PV array to be installed on the roof of the Corbett Student Union; a 988-kW, single-axis tracking PV array with a 405-kW/4-MWh lithium iron phosphate battery storage system located on the parcel of land next to the Geothermal Substation; and a small 16-kW solar pergola structure on the Hadley Hall field. All PV arrays make use of Canadian Solar Inc. bifacial PV modules.
3rd Place, University of Colorado Boulder: This team’s solution consisted of 10 rooftop installations, two parking lot installations, and a small shaded installation in the quad in front of Hadley Hall. The final solar PV system for NMSU presents a 16.5% energy offset for the demand provided by the competition.
Ball State University (BSU) District Use Case Division
1st Place, Florida International University: This team proposed a 13,632,501-kW PV system that will help to offset the energy produced on the campus by about 78%. Within the area available on the campus, the PV system utilized rooftop areas, available land, and a church parking lot to mount 32,633 panels.
2nd Place, New Mexico State University: This team proposed a comprehensive approach to integrate solar PV and battery electric storage system, solar thermal, and thermal storage system. They also made suggestions for electrification of the campus fleet, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and added artistic solar benches in several locations throughout the campus.
3rd Place, Creighton University: This team proposed two phases of development that included two distinct solar PV and battery systems, including rooftop PV systems on four different buildings on BSU’s campus and ground-mounted PV arrays that will take advantage of single-axis trackers on the northern section of campus. A small PV system has also been designed for the 55° south-facing wall on the architecture building, which creates a marketing opportunity for BSU.
The Solar District Cup 2020 Industry Choice winner was University of Cincinnati. Congratulations!
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 provided a framework for student activities, student team submittal requirements, and judging evaluation.
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. The Class of 2020 competitors achieved the following:
Built experience with innovative renewable energy design
Developed real-world solutions that shape the future of solar energy
Engaged with industry professionals to forge relationships and connections that aid participating students’ transition to the solar energy workforce upon graduation
Competed 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.
The Solar District Cup 2020 challenge was to:
Design a solar-plus-storage system for a district that maximizes energy offset and financial savings over 20 years.
The Solar District Cup 2020 had three divisions. Each division had at least six teams competing against each other. Each division had a distinct use case of an existing mixed-use urban district or campus interested in pursuing increased distributed energy development. The competition organizers provided each team with the details of the district use case for the division in which the team competed.
During the 2020 competition, a district use case was a defined area served by an electrical distribution feeder with a collection of buildings, open space, parking, and infrastructure.
WHAT TEAMS DID AND WON
The goal for each team was to design a solar-plus-storage system for a campus or urban district. Competitors analyzed electric distribution grid interactions and assumed 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 received a trophy and national recognition. Additionally, one team (University of Cincinnati) was identified as the industry choice winner. All student competitors gained valuable experience with real-life examples of innovative renewable energy design. Competitors learned to use leading industry software, presented to nationally respected judges, and engaged with industry.
HOW JUDGING WORKED
A qualified panel of five judges per division, comprising subject-matter experts and representatives from the partner district use cases selected by the competition organizers, scored finalist submissions according to the judging statements listed in the Rules. The judging panel for each division selected a first-, second-, and third-place team for each division. The judging panel made their selections through a subjective evaluation based on their expertise and experience.
The competition deliverables comprised a proposal similar to a power purchase agreement request for proposals response and contained 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
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 invited participation of teams composed of at least three students enrolled in accredited U.S.-based collegiate institutions. Students had to be enrolled in at least one class and be pursuing a degree for the duration of the competition. Students and faculty advisors were not required to be U.S. citizens but had to 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 were ineligible to compete.
Although any level of collegiate student was eligible to compete, the challenge scope was intended for multidisciplinary teams of upper-level undergraduate students. Student participation could have been integrated into senior design or capstone work, counted as elective or independent study course credit, been added to the curriculum of existing classes, or be considered an extracurricular student activity.
The Solar District Cup organizers would like to share that all future updates to the program will be made on the main Solar District Cup HeroX page. This is where you will find information about the current program and competitors.
The Solar District Cup 2020 HeroX site will remain accessible as a resource and archive of the 2020 program. If you are following the Class of 2020 HeroX page and would like to receive updates about future challenges, you can follow the current competition on HeroX or subscribe to the newsletter.
Whether you participated in the Class of 2020 or enjoyed following the program, we invite you to join the Class of 2021 competition and remain an active part of the Solar District Cup community!
On Sunday, April 26, the Solar District Cup 2020 competition event was conducted. Through live video conference, 26 competing teams presented to a panel of judges in one of three district use case divisions. Each team had 15 minutes to present, followed by 10 minutes of questions from the judges. Afterward, the judges deliberated to select the third-, second-, and first-place winners in each division. The judges were uniformly impressed by the caliber of solutions presented by all the competing teams.
On Monday, April 27, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the winners on a live video conference event. DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Renewable Power, David Solan spoke on how the Solar District Cup addresses Energy Department goals related to growing the solar energy workforce before unveiling the following winners.
Crystal Parks district use case division:
1st Place: Dartmouth College 2nd Place: Colorado School of Mines 3rd Place: Cornell University
New Mexico State University district use case division:
1st Place: University of Cincinnati 2nd Place: West Virginia University 3rd Place: University of Colorado Boulder
Ball State University district use case division:
1st Place: Florida International University 2nd Place: New Mexico State University 3rd Place: Creighton University
Later that day, the three first-place teams gave 8-minute presentations to an audience of peers and industry professionals. The video conference attendees then voted on their favorite team to win the Industry Choice Award. After voting concluded, DOE’s Director of the Solar Energy Technologies Office, Dr. Becca Jones-Albertus, announced University of Cincinnati as the Solar District Cup 2020 Industry Choice winner.
Thank you to everyone who participated in the inaugural year of the Solar District Cup, and congratulations!
Over the 2019/2020 academic school year, collegiate students have worked on developing creative solar solutions for a campus or urban district. This weekend is the culmination of their hard work as they compete in the final competition event.
All events are open to public and industry attendance.
Here’s the flow of events:
Sunday, April 26, 12-6 p.m. ET
Using live video conferencing, students will present to a panel of judges, other competing teams within their division, and guests.
Students will give 15-minute presentations followed by 10 minutes of Q&A with the division judges.
Judge deliberations will take place after the student presentations have concluded.
Monday, April 27, 11-11:30 a.m. ET
First-, second-, and third-place winners in each division will be announced by live video conference.
Monday, April 27, 2-3 p.m. ET
The three first-place winners will give 8-minute project story presentations to a public audience by live video conference.
The audience will vote on their favorite team to win the Industry Choice award.
Don’t miss this exciting opportunity to watch the 26 competing teams present their solutions and help select the Solar District Cup 2020 Industry Choice winner—RSVP on the 2020 Event page to see the presentations and vote on your favorite team on April 27!
The Solar District Cup is excited to announce the next round of competition! The Class of 2021 program will launch on April 30, 2020, and span the 2020-2021 academic year.
The 2021 program follows the same format, inspiring collegiate students to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district. Participants will gain real-world experience through a hands-on multidisciplinary project that connects them with valuable solar industry resources. This is an excellent opportunity for faculty to challenge students in an engaging way while preparing them for the solar energy workforce upon graduation.
The Solar District Cup organizers are eager to once again see the creative solutions proposed by students in this next year of competition. Team registration opens on April 30, 2020. At that time, interested students or faculty can register to participate in the 2021 program. The deadline to register a team is September 29, 2020.
Follow on HeroX for updates on the Class of 2021. We hope you join us for the 2021 competition!
We partnered with HeroX for a joint bid to respond to a government request for proposal. Our experience with the HeroX team was extremely positive.
There were times where flexibility was critical, their team took the approach of a true partnership. Working against tight timelines, collaborating virtually, operating in different time zones; any one of these points could have created challenges, not for this team. HeroX went the extra mile, which is a rarity for us in our past experiences in collaborating with other partners. The responsive, professionalism and level of expertise was noted and appreciated.
Other than their capabilities, we were impressed by their overall team in the way they conducted themselves. There was true core values alignment. We would absolutely invite the opportunity to work with their team again.