The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition announced today that 60 teams from 53 schools are advancing as finalists in the Class of 2024, including 16 teams that joined the competition for the one-semester division since December. Competitors are designing distributed energy solar systems for a real-world district or campus, giving them practice with industry tools and procedures that can make a significant impact as they prepare for careers in the renewable energy industry.

These future solar leaders are essential to the nation’s clean energy transition. The National Solar Jobs Census shows that the U.S. solar industry employs nearly 264,000 solar workers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, as of 2022. This represents a 3.5% increase from the previous year. 

Workforce development programs like the Solar District Cup, funded through the Solar Energy Technologies Office, are important because they help introduce students to the skills and benefits that a career in the solar industry has to offer. 

As in previous years, the competition engages students across engineering, finance, urban planning, sustainability, and other disciplines or degree programs to reconsider how electric energy is generated, managed, and used in a geographic district. Student teams develop a solar conceptual design with a finance proposal and analyze distribution grid interactions and community impacts for a district use case—distinct areas of developed land containing a group of mixed-use buildings served by a distribution feeder. In some cases, students will design systems that also integrate storage technologies. 

"This is the largest cohort yet of Solar District Cup finalists," said Becca Jones-Albertus, director of the DOE Solar Energy Technologies Office. "These competitors represent the next generation of talent to support the growing solar sector that is needed to meet the country’s clean energy goals. There is great creativity, innovation, and excitement in this competition and I’m looking forward to seeing the teams' designs in April."

Competition Partners Support Teams as They Edge Closer to the Finish Line

Across the entire competition, teams are competing in one of six divisions as they ramp up for the final event that runs April 27–29, 2024.

In addition to the campuses represented in the “Bring Your Own District” division of the competition, teams are designing systems for California State University, Northridge; Miami University of Ohio; The University of Texas at Dallas; University of Florida; and University of Washington.

Student teams design their systems based on data supplied by use case partners, such as the district's sustainability goals, electric utility rate schedule, development master plan, and other relevant information about each district or campus. Students also receive support from partner organizations, including Aurora Solar and RE+ Events. These partners provide competitors with the resources and tools they need to successfully compete, including access to design software, live office-hour trainings, and networking opportunities with industry professionals.

Class of 2024 Finalists

In November 2023, teams participating in the full-academic-year version of the competition submitted designs and summaries of their proposed system designs. Competition organizers provided feedback on the progress of submissions based on their potential to maximize the district's energy offset at the lowest cost while integrating aesthetic, infrastructure, and community considerations.

The following list includes finalist teams who are either advancing from the initial group announced in October or starting this month in the Winter/Spring division.

The collegiate institutions competing as Class of 2024 finalists are:

  • Alfred University 
  • Appalachian State University 
  • Baylor University
  • Boise State University
  • Carnegie Mellon University
  • Central New Mexico Community College
  • Cleveland State University
  • Colorado School of Mines
  • Columbia University
  • Dartmouth College
  • Drexel University
  • Florida A&M University
  • Franklin & Marshall College
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Houston Community College 
  • Kankakee Community College
  • Macalester College
  • Maine Maritime Academy
  • Manhattan College
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Miami University
  • Navajo Technical University
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology
  • North Carolina State University 
  • Northeastern University
  • Ohio University
  • Portland State University
  • Santa Clara University
  • Southern Illinois University Carbondale
  • Southern Methodist University
  • Texas A&M University–College Station
  • Texas A&M University–Kingsville
  • Texas Tech University
  • The City College of New York
  • The George Washington University
  • The Pennsylvania State University
  • The State University of New York Morrisville
  • The University of Alabama
  • The University of Texas at Dallas
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Dayton
  • University of Houston
  • University of North Texas
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus
  • University of South Florida
  • University of Utah
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Villanova University
  • West Texas A&M University 
  • Western Washington University
  • Xavier University of Louisiana
  • Youngstown State University

The Final Stretch

Between now and April, the students will work to complete their final deliverables for the competition. The competing teams will describe their proposed systems with specifications and layouts, financial analyses, and other details, which they will submit in mid-April. Then, in a virtual event later that month, students will present their concepts live to panels of industry judges. First-place teams will be selected from each division to present their projects again, this time to a public audience and a new panel of judges, who will decide the Project Pitch winner.

"Each year, it’s rewarding to see these students embracing the challenge of designing distributed solar energy systems," said Sara Farrar, Solar District Cup co-organizer. "They get to see a solar design from so many angles in this competition—meeting the electrical load and providing the financing along with the interconnection, distributional equity, and aesthetic considerations of how solar installations can produce far-reaching benefits. We’re eager to see how their designs and analysis develop between now and April!” 

If you are interested in getting involved with the Solar District Cup as a partner, judge, or industry mentor, contact the Solar District Cup organizers. You can also follow the Class of 2024 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.