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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.

The Solar District Cup Class of 2020 competed from September 2019 to April 2020. Student teams designed and modeled optimized distributed energy systems for their assigned district. The 2020 district partners were Ball State University, JBG SMITH, and New Mexico State University.

The Class of 2020 participants were students and faculty advisors from 61 teams, representing 52 collegiate institutions. From September to November 2019, these students developed solutions to the renewable energy needs of campuses or urban districts and built their portfolios.

After successfully demonstrating their progress, students and faculty advisors from 35 teams, representing 32 collegiate institutions, earned positions as Solar District Cup 2020 finalists. The finalists competed in the second half of competition and prepared to submit their Final Deliverable Package. On April 26, 2020, 26 teams presented to a panel of judges in their divisions via live video conference.

On April 27, 2020, DOE announced the first-, second-, and third-place winners in each division. Following the announcement, the three first-place teams presented to a public audience, who voted for the Industry Choice Award winner. 

Below is a list of the Solar District Cup Class of 2020 winners in each division.

Crystal Parks District Division

Crystal Parks is a commercial office development with ground-floor retail in five buildings in National Landing, an urban neighborhood of Arlington, VA, south of Washington, DC. The Crystal Parks district is owned by the real estate investment trust JBG SMITH, whose long-term strategy to reduce energy and water consumption includes operational and capital improvements that align with its business plan. ​

1st Place – Dartmouth College: This team proposed that Crystal Parks remain on the current utility rate schedule and install a photovoltaic (PV) system with a flat-rate power purchase agreement (PPA) that would save the district an estimated $273,000 in energy costs over 20 years.

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The Dartmouth College team wins first place in the Crystal Parks division.
Video courtesy of the Department of Energy

2nd Place – Colorado School of Mines: This team designed two solar solutions: rooftop PV systems for all five buildings, ranging from 160 to 290 kilowatts (kW) of PV on each rooftop, and an off-site PV system at the decommissioned I-66 landfill 23 miles west of Arlington, VA, that could offset 100% of the district’s energy usage when combined with the five rooftop systems.

3rd Place – Cornell University: This team’s solution consisted of nearly 1.5 megawatts (MW) of solar energy through a five-building rooftop system, carports, solar flowers, and solar kiosks. The solution incorporated the opportunity for a 50 kW (100 kW hours) battery storage system, which would provide enough power to sustain the district's emergency backup systems for at least an hour and a half.

New Mexico State University District Division

New Mexico State University is a public research university with its main campus in Las Cruces, NM. The university hosts more than 15,000 students and has several dozen buildings. ​To achieve its goal of reaching carbon neutrality by 2050, the university’s climate action plan requires that every building over 15,000 square feet be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver building.

1st Place – University of Cincinnati: This team proposed a ground-mounted 3.3 MW PV array and a 4 MWh battery storage system located 1.5 miles east of the school’s main campus. A second PV system included a 295 kW carport array with six canopies, each of which would feature 365 Watt monocrystalline modules.

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University of Cincinnati wins first place in the New Mexico State University District Division
Video courtesy of the Department of Energy

2nd Place – West Virginia University: This team’s system design consisted of three subsystems: a 278 kW fixed horizontal-tilt PV array to be installed on the roof of the student union; a 988 kW single-axis tracking PV array with a 405 kW/4 MWh lithium-ion phosphate battery storage system located next to the geothermal substation; and a small 16 kW solar pergola on the Hadley Hall field. All PV arrays would use bifacial PV modules. 

3rd Place – University of Colorado Boulder: This team’s solution consisted of 10 rooftop installations, two parking lot installations, and a small shaded installation in a quad. The final solar PV system offsets  16.5% of energy consumption. 

Ball State University District Division

Ball State University (BSU) is a public research university with its main campus occupying over 900 acres in Muncie, IN. BSU was a 2006 founding signatory to the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment and has a current goal of achieving climate neutrality by 2030. BSU is interested in addressing its energy needs with on-site solar and storage solutions.

1st Place – Florida International University: This team proposed a 13,632 MW PV system to offset the energy produced on the campus by approximately 78%. The proposed PV system would utilize rooftop areas, available land, and a church parking lot on campus to mount 32,633 panels.

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Florida International University wins first place in the Ball State University District Division
Video courtesy of the Department of Energy

2nd Place – New Mexico State University: This team proposed integrating a solar PV and battery electric storage system with solar-thermal power and a thermal storage system. The team also suggested electrification of the campus vehicle fleet, electric vehicle charging infrastructure, and added artistic solar benches in several locations throughout the campus. 

3rd Place – Creighton University: This team proposed two phases of development that included two distinct solar PV and battery systems, including rooftop PV systems on four campus buildings and ground-mounted PV arrays with single-axis trackers. The team also designed a small PV system for the 55° south-facing wall on the architecture building.

The Solar District Cup 2020 Industry Choice winner was University of Cincinnati.

Class of 2020 Participating and Finalist Schools

Alfred University (Finalist)
Appalachian State University (Finalist)
Arizona State University (Finalist)
Brown University (Finalist)
California Polytechnic State University (Finalist)
California State University, Fresno
California State University, Los Angeles (Finalist)
Case Western Reserve University
Clemson University (Finalist)
Colorado School of Mines (Finalist)
Cornell University (Finalist)
Creighton University (Finalist)
Dartmouth College (Finalist)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (Finalist)
Florida International University (Finalist)
Georgia Institute of Technology (Finalist)
Hampton University
Hanover College (Finalist)
Illinois Institute of Technology (Finalist)
Indiana University--Purdue University Indianapolis (Finalist)
Kettering University
Little Big Horn College
Marquette University (Finalist)
Missouri University of Science and Technology (Finalist)
Montana State University
Morgan State University
New Mexico State University (Finalist)
Northern Arizona University (Finalist)
Northwestern University
Ohio Northern University
Prairie View A&M University
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology
Santa Clara University (Finalist)
The Ohio State University (Finalist)
The University of Akron
The University of Arkansas (Finalist)
The University of Massachusetts Lowell (Finalist)
The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Virginia  (Finalist)
United Tribes Technical College
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (Finalist)
University of Central Florida
University of Cincinnati (Finalist)
University of Colorado Boulder (Finalist)
University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign
University of North Florida
University of South Florida (Finalist)
University of Washington
Valencia College
West Virginia University (Finalist)
Western Washington University (Finalist)
Yale University


The Solar District Cup is proud to have had the following partners supporting the program and 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 is providing 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.
  • 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.
  • Solar Power Events – Solar Power Events, 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 at Solar Power International 2019 and Solar and Energy Storage Southeast 2020.
  • Ball State University – Ball State University was a 2020 district partner.
  • JBG SMITH – JBG Smith was a 2020 district partner.
  • New Mexico State University – New Mexico State University was a 2020 district partner.

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.


Competition Judges

  • Keith Cronin
  • Brion Fitzpatrick
  • Jonathan Gritz
  • Dana Clare Redden
  • Aram Shumavon
  • Toyah Barigye
  • Pat Chavez
  • Michael Coddington
  • Christopher J. Lord
  • Evan Riley
  • Bakary Coulibaly
  • Kristen Fornes
  • Nick Heine
  • Robert J. Koester
  • Sumit Ray


  • April 1, 2019 – 2020 competition registration opened.
  • July 31, 2019 – Rules released.
  • September 12, 2019 – Deadline for registration of participating teams.
  • September 19, 2019 – Participating teams announced.
  • September 23, 2019 – Optional all-team Warmup Workshop at Solar Power International conference.
  • November 21, 2019 – Deadline for receipt of Progress Deliverable Package from all participating teams.
  • December 12, 2019 – Finalist teams announced.
  • March 31, 2020 – Launch of 2021 program.
  • April 14, 2020 – Deadline for receipt of Final Deliverable Package from 2020 finalist teams.
  • April 26, 2020 – 2020 finalists present their projects to judges and industry during a live video conference event.
  • April 27, 2020 – 2020 winners announced.
  • April 30, 2020 – 2021 team registration opened.

Learn More

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.