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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 technologies across mixed-use districts, which are groups of buildings served by a common electrical distribution feeder. The competition engages students in the engineering, urban planning, finance, and related disciplines to reimagine how energy is generated, managed, and used in a district.

The goal is to design, model, and present the most innovative and cost-effective system possible. Teams compete in one of multiple divisions, each of which is structured around a specific district. 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, which is determined by a techno-economic analysis that the students conduct and judges evaluate.

Students present their solutions to judges at a live event, where the winners are selected and announced.   

The U.S. Department of Energy announced the Solar District Cup on May 30, 2019. The competition is administered by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).


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 become leaders in  distributed solar energy. As competitors, students:

  • Build experience with innovative distributed energy design
  • Develop innovative solutions to real-world, district-scale challenges
  • Engage with industry professionals to forge relationships and connections that aid participating students’ transition to the distributed energy workforce upon graduation
  • Compete to earn national recognition upon winning a Solar District Cup and/or being selected as an industry choice winner or pitch champion.

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.


The Solar District Cup is proud to have the following partners supporting the program and the participating teams:

  • Aurora Solar Inc. – Aurora Solar has created a one-stop, cloud-based solution to streamline the entire solar design and sales process. The company provides complimentary accounts with access to their solar software to all competing teams for the duration of the competition, as well as customized training and hosting “office hours” sessions.
  • Energy Toolbase Software Inc.  This software platform provides a cohesive suite of project modeling, storage control, and asset monitoring products that enable solar and storage developers to deploy projects more efficiently. It provides all competing teams free accounts and access to its software, offers customized training, and staffs “office hour” sessions throughout the competition.
  • HeatSpring, LLC – HeatSpring has developed a platform enabling knowledge leaders to better reach knowledge seekers. Industry experts lead online courses for professionals within solar, green building, and other clean energy industries. HeatSpring is providing a training platform and solar industry training content for use by hundreds of competing students as well as hosting “office hours” sessions with solar business experts Keith Cronin and Chris Lord.
  • RE+ (formerly Solar Power Events) – RE+, owned by the Solar Energy Industry Association and Smart Electric Power Alliance, is the event group behind North America’s largest solar and storage events. The organization is providing space, promotion, and amenities to the Solar District Cup.

Thank you to our sponsors for helping make the Solar District Cup a success. 

The recognition of sponsor organizations does not constitute or imply any endorsement, sponsorship, or recommendation of their messages, missions, activities, products, or programs. The U.S. Department of Energy does not monitor, control, or directly fund the activities of the identified organizations.


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This work is funded as part of the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Energy Technologies Office FY2019-21 Lab Call through a project with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.