NREL Challenge

 10,012

Solar District Cup 2021

Challenging multidisciplinary student teams to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district.
stage:
prize:
Connections, Pride & Experience!
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 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 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.

 

2020 AND 2021 PROGRAMS

The Solar District Cup Class of 2020 was the inaugural cohort of the competition. Students competed from September 2019 through April 2020. Further details about the 2020 competition, including a list of winners, can be found here

The Class of 2021 program was launched on April 30, 2020, and will span the 2020-2021 academic year. Choose "follow" at the top of this page to be sure that you hear about the program and select "submit your solution" if you're planning to be part of a collegiate team. 

 

LEARN MORE

To learn more about the program and the current competition: 

To learn more about the Class of 2020: 

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 will provide a framework for student activities, student team submittal requirements, and judging evaluation. A review of the 2021 Rules will provide a good overview of the type of work that will be required. 

 

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 analyze 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, open land, 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 the 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 creative and innovative solution that demonstrates excellent analysis and system design and optimal battery use strategy.
  • DISTRIBUTION SYSTEM IMPACT ANALYSIS - Power flow modeling approach demonstrates sophisticated strategy to integrate a reliable solution into the distribution system while operating within voltage and loading restrictions.
  • 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 FinalDeliverable Package.

Progress Deliverable Package—Solar PV System

  • A complete submission for the progress deliverable is a design and techno-economic 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 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.

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 2021 Rules. 

Timeline
Updates 7

Challenge Updates

Announcing the Solar District Cup 2021 Starting Lineup

Oct. 6, 2020, 11:56 a.m. PDT by Jackie Petre

We are excited to announce that 59 teams from 56 collegiate institutions are participating in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021! The class of competitors includes students and faculty advisors from across the country.

“We're so excited to see so many new and returning teams from such a broad set of geographic and institutional backgrounds,” Joe Simon, one of the Solar District Cup organizers, said.

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

Alfred University
Appalachian State University
Arizona State University
Boise State University
California Polytechnic State University
Chandler-Gilbert Community College
Clark Atlanta University
Columbia University
Cornell University
East Tennessee State University
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
Georgia Institute of Technology
Illinois Institute of Technology
Illinois State University
Indiana University--Purdue University Indianapolis
Joliet Junior College
Marquette University
Miami University
Navajo Technical University
NC State University
Northwest Vista College
Prairie View A&M University
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Santa Clara University
South Dakota State University
Stevens Institute of Technology
Tennessee Tech University
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
Texas Tech University
The George Washington University
The Ohio State University
The Pennsylvania State University
The University of Alabama
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
The University of Massachusetts Lowell
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Toledo
The University of Virginia
Triton College 
Tulane University
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York
University of California, Irvine
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Diego
University of Colorado Boulder
University of Kentucky - Paducah Campus
University of Maryland
University of North Texas
University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus
University of Southern California
University of the Virgin Islands
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Utah State University 
Yale University

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

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

  • The City of Denver and Auraria Higher Education Center
  • The University of Central Florida
  • The University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

We are thrilled to have so many teams competing from a wide variety of schools and disciplines in the Class of 2021. Stay tuned to find out which teams advance as finalists!


Only a Few Days Left to Compete in the Solar District Cup 2021

Sept. 25, 2020, 10:40 a.m. PDT by Joe Simon

Just a few days until the Sept. 29 deadline to register your team to compete in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021! If you haven’t yet registered a team and plan to participate in this year’s competition, we recommend completing your registration this weekend.

As a reminder, here’s how you can do this:

  1. Click the “SOLVE CHALLENGE” button at the top of the page
  2. Read and “Accept” the Competitor Agreement
  3. Identify how you will be competing—creating a team, joining a pre-registered team, or competing by yourself – remember, your team makeup can change after Sept. 29!
  4. Click “BEGIN ENTRY” under the “REGISTER” and fill out the submission form.
  5. At least one person on your team must submit a “register” entry on HeroX by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 29. Additional team members can be added later. 

Upon team registration, you will receive a welcome email from  with instructions, access to the free solar + storage training content, and next steps. All teams should plan to attend the virtual Warmup Workshop on Oct. 8.

Don’t miss this opportunity to engage with industry professionals and develop solutions to real-world solar system designs. Complete your team registration by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 29! We look forward to having you compete!

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One Week Left to Register Your Team!

Sept. 22, 2020, 2 p.m. PDT by Joe Simon

Only one week left until the Sept. 29 @ 5 p.m. ET deadline to register your team to compete in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021! As a reminder, at least one person on your team needs to submit a “register” entry on HeroX by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 29. Additional team members can be added later. 

To complete team registration:

  1. Click the “SOLVE CHALLENGE” button at the top of the page
  2. Read and “Accept” the Competitor Agreement
  3. Identify how you will be competing—creating a team, joining a pre-registered team, or competing by yourself – remember, your team makeup can change after Sept. 29!
  4. Click “BEGIN ENTRY” under the “Register” and fill out the submission form.

We highly recommend completing team registration as soon as possible. Upon team registration, you will receive a welcome email from solardistrictcup@nrel.gov with instructions, access to the extensive free training videos, and next steps. All teams should plan to attend the virtual Warmup Workshop on Oct. 8.

Questions? We encourage you to view the Informational Webinar recording, check out the presentation slides, and read the Rules

Don’t forget to complete your team registration by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 29! We look forward to having you compete!

Image reminder to register for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition by Sept. 29.

How Can the Solar District Cup Prepare You for a Career in Solar?

Sept. 22, 2020, 8:04 a.m. PDT by Joe Simon

Read Class of 2020 quotes about participation and the career benefits of competing. Registration closes Sept. 29 and access to the free solar + storage training videos are provided upon registration so if you're ready to go, register now so you can get started learning!

The Solar District Cup is designed to inspire students to consider new career opportunities, learn industry-relevant skills, engage with the professional marketplace, and prepare to lead the next generation of distributed solar energy. Through this competition, students gain valuable experience working on solving real challenges faced by mixed-use districts. 

But don’t take our word for it—see what last year’s competitors had to say about the competition:

“The Solar District Cup was an immersive and technically challenging event that allowed our future innovators to work with actual region-specific utility data. Allowing students to navigate real world engineering, financial and social challenges associated with renewable technologies is educationally invaluable.” –Class of 2020 Student

"It was my great honor to participate in the Solar District Cup, this challenge was a wonderful learning experience for me, and I believe we created some great results.” –Class of 2020 Student

“This competition gave [my classes] much more structure, realism and excitement. This was truly a God-send. This was one of four projects in my senior capstone and I saw the skills from this competition that I wouldn't have focused on so much bleed into their other projects for their improvement.” –Class of 2020 Faculty

“We loved being a part of this challenge and enjoyed every moment of teamwork and learning. … We loved the chance to jump start our journeys in solar energy.” –Class of 2020 Student

“[My favorite aspect was] reflecting after the final presentation and realizing that in September, I did not know what a transformer even was, while now I can confidently explain value stacking to my peers.” –Class of 2020 Student

Convinced? See how you or your students can benefit from this interactive challenge by watching a recording of our Informational Webinar then submit your REGISTER entry to commit your team to compete in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021. Hurry—team registration closes on Sept. 29!

Graphic for the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition saying: Register Now. Start Designing Fall 2020. Present and Compete in Spring 2021.

Informational Webinar Recording and Slides Released

Sept. 17, 2020, 9:57 a.m. PDT by Joe Simon

The Informational Webinar Recording and slides have now been released. Submit a team Register entry by Sept 29.

Thanks to everyone who attended our Class of 2021 Informational Webinar on Sept. 10. We had fantastic attendance and many great questions. We are thrilled to see everyone’s enthusiasm!

Here are the next steps you should take before Sept. 29:

  • If you've decided that you’d be a good fit as either a student team member or faculty advisor, please choose to “SOLVE CHALLENGE” on HeroX and then work to ensure that one person from your team submits a “Register” entry by 5 p.m. ET on Sept. 29.
  • Read the Solar District Cup 2021 Rules, if you haven’t already.
  • Set  aside time to attend the Warmup Workshop on Thursday, Oct. 8. More details on this virtual event will be coming soon.
  • Following registration, keep an eye out for information on accessing the free educational training materials, which will be provided on Sept. 21 to all teams who have already registered and upon registration after that date.
  • If you aren’t able to compete in this year’s Solar District Cup but still want to receive updates about competition progress, subscribe to our newsletter.
Image from Recording of Informational Webinar
Watch the Informational Webinar Recording

Please reach out to solardistrictcup@nrel.gov with any questions and register to compete by Sept. 29!

 


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