35 Teams Advance to Solar District Cup Finals

Students From 39 Schools Will Seek Victory at April Event

Dec. 17, 2021

Group of students working at a computer with solar cells in the background.

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.

If you are interested in getting involved with the Solar District Cup as a partner or industry mentor, contact the Solar District Cup organizers. You can also follow the Class of 2021–2022 as they advance through the competition and sign up for the Solar District Cup newsletter to receive future competition updates.

Learn more about the Solar District Cup.