NREL: 35 Teams Advance to Solar District Cup Finals

Today, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition announced that 35 teams from 39 schools are advancing as finalists in the Class of 2021–2022 program. Competitors will design systems that integrate solar, storage, and other technologies for a real-world district or campus, developing skills essential to the clean energy transition.

The U.S. electricity landscape is changing and so are opportunities in the energy workforce. Now in its third year, the Solar District Cup inspires a new generation of renewable energy innovators to create distributed energy systems that support a flexible, resilient power grid. The competition challenges multidisciplinary, student-led teams to develop solutions for the renewable energy needs of campuses or urban districts. So far, the Class of 2021–2022 has engaged around 300 students in this year’s competition.

“Inspiring students to join the clean energy workforce is critical to achieving our nation’s climate goals over the next several years,” said Garrett Nilsen, acting director of DOE’s Solar Energy Technologies Office. “The students who are advancing as finalists in the Solar District Cup are proving that our future workforce is on a strong and promising path. I’m eager to see how their designs evolve over the next few months as they prepare for the final competition event.”

The finalists are advancing from an initial group of 65 participating teams from 64 collegiate institutions unveiled in September 2021.The Solar District Cup competition draws students from degree programs including engineering, urban planning, sustainability, finance, and more who together take on the role of a solar-plus-storage developer. The teams compete in one of three divisions, each centered around a specific district use case.

Teams design their systems based on data such as the district’s sustainability goals, electric utility rate schedule, development master plan, and other relevant information provided in their division’s district use case. The three district use cases for the 2021–2022 program are Cheyney University of Pennsylvania, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, and The Ohio State University.

In November, participants submitted designs and summaries of their proposed systems. Projects were evaluated based on their potential to maximize the district’s energy offset and financial savings over the life of the system while integrating aesthetic, infrastructure, and community considerations. Teams that proved they have made progress toward the program’s final deliverables are now moving on as finalists.

The collegiate institutions competing as Class of 2021–2022 finalists 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
To win, the finalists will describe their final proposed systems, layout, financial analysis, and other details, which they will submit in mid-April 2022. The teams then present their concepts to industry judges at a virtual event in late April. First-, second-, and third-place teams will be selected from each division. Just a few hours later, the first-place winners will present their projects again, this time to a public audience who votes to determine the Project Pitch winner.

“When we announce the finalists, we see teams start to get really serious about their projects,” said Sara Farrar, Solar District Cup organizer. “Up until this point, many of the students are still learning about what it takes to design and model a distributed energy system at a large scale. Now, they’ll buckle down and refine their designs, practice their pitch skills, and learn to work as a team, which is fun for the organizers to see.”

Partner organizations, including Aurora Solar Inc., Energy Toolbase, HeatSpring LLC, and Solar Power Events, provide Solar District Cup competitors with resources and tools needed to successfully compete. These benefits include access to design software, online educational courses, and networking opportunities with industry professionals.