Solar District Cup horizontal logo

The Solar District Cup challenges multidisciplinary student teams to design and model optimized distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district. 

The Class of 2021 competed from September 2020 to April 2021. Student teams designed and modeled optimized distributed energy systems for their assigned district. The 2021 district partners are the City of Denver and Auraria Higher Education Center, the University of Central Florida, and the University of Nebraska – Lincoln.

The Class of 2021 participants were students and faculty advisors from 59 student-led teams from 57 collegiate institutions. From September to November 2020, 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 34 schools earned positions as Solar District Cup 2021 finalists. The finalists competed in the second half of competition and prepared to submit their Final Deliverable Package. On April 25, 2021, 28 teams presented to a panel of judges in their divisions via live video conference at the Solar District Cup 2021 Competition Event.

On April 26, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy 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 Project Pitch Champion.

Below is a list of the Solar District Cup Class of 2021 winners in each division.


This multijurisdictional District is located at the edge of downtown Denver and is composed of buildings owned and operated by two authorities: the Auraria Higher Education Center and the City of Denver. On the Auraria campus—which houses three co-located universities—student teams had to design behind-the-meter photovoltaic (PV) systems on rooftops and parking lots, as well as a battery storage system to increase campus resilience. On the City of Denver side, students were tasked with designing a community solar system that spanned the rooftops of the Denver Convention Center as well as the Denver Performing Arts Complex that could serve multiple customers across the Denver Metro area.

The University of Puerto Rico Mayagüez Campus (UPRM) team's expertly designed solar solution for the Auraria Higher Education Center consisted of five systems (rooftop and carport) totaling nearly 2 MW of installed capacity with an annual energy production of over 2.7 GWh. This represents an average offset of 33.5% to the connected buildings’ loads. The team thoughtfully considered which systems would deliver the highest benefit to the campus, given the constraints on exporting solar generation onto the distribution system. Additionally, the team designed a 1.92-MWh battery system to provide resilience services to the Auraria campus’ Science Building. The aggregate power purchase agreement (PPA) for this system is $0.06/kWh, which UPRM estimated will save the Auraria Higher Education Center a net present value of $26,873 over 20 years. The team’s community solar solution for the City of Denver’s Convention Center and Performing Arts Complex was composed of two interconnected systems totaling over 3.3 MW and delivering up to 5.1 GWh of solar energy to system subscribers annually. The blended PPA for this community solar system (comprising several customer classes) was $0.04/kWh.


Video Url
Presentation by University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition Class of 2021's Competition Event on April 25, 2021. This team competed in the City of Denver & Auraria Higher Education Center district use case division.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

Georgia Tech’s Energy Club proposed a “Holistic Solar Solution” for the Auraria Higher Education and the City of Denver, designing over 2.8 MW of solar systems across the Auraria campus and 1.05 MW of community solar on the City of Denver’s Convention Center and Performing Arts Complex. This amounts to nearly 5 GWh of solar generation between both systems on an annual basis. The average PPA price for solar-only systems on the Auraria side was $0.08/kWh, resulting in 20-year net savings of $200,681 for the campus. The community solar system designed on the City of Denver side featured a PPA of $0.06. In addition to their engineering design, the Energy Club team proposed a “solar skin” panel covering that would beautify the system and broadcast campus branding.

The Ohio State University’s Buckeyes Solar team proposed 11 PV systems for the Auraria campus, composed of rooftops, carports, and two small ground-mounted systems totaling 2.95 MW of capacity. The PPA for this aggregate system was $0.056/kWh. Recognizing the challenging economics of the installing a community solar system on the City of Denver buildings, OSU did not recommend the municipality proceed with this solution.


The University of Central Florida (UCF) is a public research university with its main campus in Orlando, FL. This division challenged students to design PV systems on rooftops and parking lots on a section of central campus, as well as on a roughly 50-acre plot of land southeast of campus. UCF’s goal is to maximize PV self-generation, and to strategically deploy battery storage to enable higher penetrations of solar. Additionally, students were tasked with designing a floating solar—or “floatovoltaic”—system to the northeast of campus.

The University of Colorado Boulder team proposed a solution consisting of four systems: a 12.2-MW ground mount with a 1.9-MWh battery storage component; a 1.8-MW floating PV system; a 875-kW carport; and a 322-kW roof mount. In aggregate, the solution offsets 21 GWh of grid energy, focusing on the priorities of energy independence, customer savings, and PV visibility. Under a 20-year lease, customer savings were estimated to have a net present value of approximately $1.5 million.

Video Url
Presentation by University of Colorado Boulder in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition Class of 2021's Competition Event on April 25, 2021. This team competed in the University of Central Florida district use case division.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The University of California, Irvine team’s proposed solution was a mix of rooftop, carport, and ground mount PV systems. Nameplate capacity was 8.4 MW of direct current producing 12 GWh in the first year and offsetting nearly 17.7% of annual energy usage across the entire campus. An optional battery storage component was sized to 585 kWh. Over the 20-year contract life, the net present value of the district savings was estimated to be over $4.5 million.

The University of Toledo’s team proposed a solution consisting of roof mounted, ground mount, and floating PV arrays. Total system capacity was 7.0 MW of direct current, and annual production was estimated to be 10,985 MWh. A 2-MW battery storage system was also recommended. Average annual customer savings over the 20-year contract were estimated to be $247,980.


The University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL) is the flagship public research university for the state of Nebraska. The challenge for this division centered on East Campus, a satellite collection of UNL buildings that retains a rural ambience despite being surrounded by the City of Lincoln. This campus has several rooftops and parking lots available for potential PV installations, as well as a parcel of land dedicated to agricultural research and for which student teams were tasked with designing an “agrivoltaic” system.

The Solar Studz team from Embry-Riddle approached the system design with a focus on the three C’s: Clean, Cost, and Community, or as the team dubbed, “CornUnity.” This team’s proposal includes eight solar systems with a total PV size rating of 880 kW, including rooftop, carport, and ground-mount installations to offset 5% of the campus annual energy consumption. The project includes multiple battery storage systems, totaling 311 kW/989 kWh to both offset energy demand charges and provide resiliency for a critical load. The team proposes a PPA price of $0.12/kWh over the 20-year life of the project with a $179,468 net present value, not including the resiliency component. The creative community focus includes the agrivoltaic research stations, a solar PV-shaded event area, university signage powered by pole-mounted PV, and a dyed solar skin for a rooftop system aerial view to resemble a corn husk.

Video Url
Presentation by Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in the U.S. Department of Energy's Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition Class of 2021's Competition Event on April 25, 2021. This team competed in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln district use case division.
National Renewable Energy Laboratory

The Bronco Engineering team from Boise State designed a suite of 37 solar systems totaling 5.7 MW rated capacity and 7.3 GWh annual production, providing a 23% offset of the campus annual energy consumption. The solar PV systems are suited to agricultural areas, informational solar trees, rooftops, and large carports with selective smart inverters to reduce risk of voltage spikes. The team included a 750-kWh battery for critical load resilience and proposed PPA prices of $0.08 for the City Campus systems and $0.05 for East Campus. The team also calculated the resulting emissions reduction, inclusive of equipment manufacturing, to help meet the district master plan sustainability goals.

The Renewable Energy Society team from Illinois State designed 13 solar arrays in rooftop, carport, and ground-mount configurations to meet the district master plan bottom line of planet, productivity, and people. The solar systems have a total rated capacity of 3.6 MW and annual energy production of 4.9 GWh, offsetting an average of 20% of the connected building energy loads. The project includes a 224 kW/1.1 MWh-battery system to serve critical load 4-hour resilience in combination with the solar. The team proposed a partnership flip PPA with a $0.10/kWh price, comparable to the campus blended energy rate, and a $978,935 net present value over the 20-year project life. The team thoughtfully integrated agrivoltaics with the research mission and proposed community engagement efforts that included solar smart flowers and solar stations for education.

Class of 2021 Participating and Finalist Schools

Alamo Colleges District
Alfred University (finalist)
Appalachian State University (finalist)
Arizona State University (finalist—2 teams)
Boise State University (finalist)
California Polytechnic State University
Chandler-Gilbert Community College
Clark Atlanta University
Columbia University
Cornell University (finalist)
East Tennessee State University (finalist)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (finalist)
Georgia Institute of Technology (finalist)
Illinois Institute of Technology (finalist)
Illinois State University (finalist)
Indiana University--Purdue University Indianapolis (finalist)
Joliet Junior College
Marquette University (finalist)
Miami University (finalist)
Navajo Technical University
NC State University
Prairie View A&M University
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (finalist)
Santa Clara University (finalist)
South Dakota State University
Stevens Institute of Technology (finalist)
Tennessee Tech University (finalist)
Texas A&M University
Texas A&M University-Kingsville
Texas Tech University
The George Washington University
The Ohio State University (finalist)
The Pennsylvania State University
The University of Alabama (finalist)
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (finalist)
The University of Massachusetts Lowell (finalist)
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
The University of Texas at Austin (finalist)
The University of Toledo (finalist)
The University of Virginia (finalist)
Triton College (finalist)
Tulane University (finalist)
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (finalist)
University of California, Irvine (finalist)
University of California, Los Angeles
University of California, San Diego (finalist)
University of Colorado Boulder (finalist)
University of Kentucky - Paducah Campus
University of Maryland (finalist)
University of Michigan (finalist)
University of North Texas
University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (finalist—2 teams)
University of Southern California
University of the Virgin Islands
University of Wisconsin-Madison (finalist)
Utah State University
Yale University


  • 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. Their online courses are led by industry experts and taken by 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.
  • City of Denver and Auraria Higher Education Center – The City of Denver and Auraria Higher Education Center are a 2021 district use case partner.
  • University of Central Florida – The University of Central Florida is a 2021 district use case partner.
  • University of Nebraska – Lincoln – The University of Nebraska – Lincoln is a 2021 district use case partner.

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.

Competition Judges

Thank you to the following judges for their participation in the Solar District Cup Class of 2021 Competition Event:

  • Bakary Coulibaly
  • Kristen Fornes
  • Chris Herr
  • Akshay Kumar Jain
  • Dr. Olga Lavrova
  • Qifeng Li
  • Rachel McLaughlin
  • Alex Parlato
  • Dr. Linda Pickett
  • Dana Clare Redden
  • Benjamin Schneider
  • Siddharth Temburni


  • March 31, 2020 – Launch of 2021 competition
  • April 30, 2020 – Competition registration opened
  • July 2020 – Rules released
  • September 29, 2020 – Deadline for registration of participating teams
  • October 6, 2020 – Participating teams announced
  • November 19, 2020 – Deadline for receipt of Progress Deliverable Package from all participating teams
  • December 17, 2020 – Finalist teams announced
  • April 15, 2021 – Deadline for receipt of Final Deliverable Package from finalist teams
  • April 25, 2021 – Finalists present their projects to judges at a virtual event
  • April 26, 2021 – Winners announced

Learn More

This work was 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.