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NREL Challenge

 22,018

Solar District Cup 2022

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

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stage:
Won
prize:
Connections, Pride & Experience!

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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
Updates17

Challenge Updates

The Solar District Cup Class of 2022-2023 has Launched! Plus, This HeroX Page has Moved

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 Class of 2022-2023 competition is now officially open for team registration. Students will begin working on projects this fall and will present final projects in spring 2023. 

With the completion of the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022, this HeroX channel has been moved to HeroX.com/solardistrictcup2022 as an archived page. 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 2021-2022 HeroX site will remain accessible as a resource and archive of the Class of 2021-2022 program. If you 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 2021-2022 or enjoyed following the program, we invite you to join the Class of 2022-2023 competition and remain an active part of the Solar District Cup community! 


Congratulations, Class of 2021-2022!

April 25, 2022, 2:07 p.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Congratulations to the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 on the success of the 2021-2022 Competition Event. With 28 competing teams from 31 collegiate institutions, there were many great projects presented. After the announcement of the top teams in each division, the first-place winners—Creighton University, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and Drexel University—faced off in the Project Pitch Championship, each presenting a condensed version of their winning proposal.

After viewing three terrific project pitches, a public audience of over 150 attendees voted to select their favorite team. In the end, Creighton University was voted as the Project Pitch Champion.  

Congratulations, again, to the three first-place teams on fantastic proposals! And thank you to all the students who competed in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022. You impressed the judges, U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) leadership, competition partners, and the organizers with your hard work and thoughtful pitches.  

Make sure you’re following Solar District Cup on HeroX and subscribe to the competition newsletter for future updates on the competition!  

Thank you and congratulations to everyone who made the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 a success! 


Division Winners Announced! Join Us Today to Help Decide Who Will be Named Project Pitch Champion

April 25, 2022, 8:32 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy announced first-, second-, and third-place winners in each of the three Solar District Cup divisions. And this afternoon, the public is invited to help select the Project Pitch Champion from among the first-place teams!

The first-, second-, and third-place teams, as well as honorable mentions, in each division are as follows:

Cheyney University of Pennsylvania division:

  • 1st: Creighton University
  • 2nd: Appalachian State University
  • 3rd: Illinois State University
  • Honorable Mention: Northeast Lakeview College and San Antonio College
  • Honorable Mention: Texas Southern University

The Ohio State University division:

  • 1st: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • 2nd: Southern Illinois University Carbondale, Case Western Reserve University, and The University of Texas at Dallas
  • 3rd: NC State University
  • Honorable Mention: Georgia Institute of Technology

Pacific Northwest National Laboratory division:

  • 1st: Drexel University
  • 2nd: Carnegie Mellon University
  • 3rd: University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus
  • Honorable Mention: University of Colorado Boulder

Congratulations to all of the Class of 2021-2022 teams that participated in this year’s competition. 

Next up: the final Pitch Championship is 2 - 3  p.m. EDT! Watch live as the three first-place teams in each division present brief project pitches to a public audience, who will then vote on their favorite presentation to determine the Project Pitch Champion. 

Register now to join the Solar District Cup Pitch Championship and tune in to cast your vote today at 2 p.m. EDT!


Solar District Cup Final Competition Events Start Sunday!

April 21, 2022, 9:15 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Class of 2021-2022 finalists are busy prepping their pitches for the Solar District Cup Final Competition Event this Sunday! During Division Presentations, starting Sunday, April 24, at 12 p.m. EDT, student teams will present their concepts for solar-plus-storage designs to their division peers and a panel of industry judges. 

On Monday, April 25, at 11 a.m. EDT, judges will announce the top three teams in each division. First-place division winners will then prepare to present their innovative ideas to a public audience at 2 p.m. EDT that same day. The public is invited to listen in on the presentations, then vote for which team they think should go home with the Project Pitch Champion title. 

Learn more about the Final Competition Event, then tune in on Monday at 2 p.m. EDT to vote for your favorite team to win the Project Pitch Championship 


Join us April 25 for the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 Pitch Championship

April 14, 2022, 7:55 a.m. PDT by NREL Challenge

Find out which student teams win the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 on April 25!

Over the past academic year, Solar District Cup teams have been working hard on refining their solar-plus-storage designs. Now, they’re getting ready to pitch their final projects to their division peers and a panel of industry judges at the Competition Event

On April 24–25, student teams will participate in a two-day, three-part event where they’ll present their projects to a panel of industry judges, learn who won each division, and potentially compete for the title of Project Pitch Champion.

Schedule of events

On Monday, April 25, U.S. Department of Energy leadership will join the Division Winner Announcement to award the first-, second-, third-place, and honorable-mention winners in each division. Then, the three first-place teams will present an 8-minute project pitch to their peers and a public audience, who will vote for their favorite team to become the Project Pitch Champion!

Don’t miss this chance to see the best and brightest students shaping the future of solar in this live virtual event! Learn more about the Class of 2021-2022 Competition Event and join the Project Pitch Championship to vote for which of the three teams you’d like to see become the Project Pitch Champion!


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