The Solar District Cup challenges multidisciplinary student teams to design and model distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district. 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 Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 is competing from September 2021 to April 2022. Student teams design and model distributed energy systems for their assigned district use case. These systems integrate solar, storage, and other technologies across mixed-use districts, or groups of buildings served by a common electrical distribution feeder.
On December 17, 2021, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) announced the 35 teams from 39 schools that advanced to the final stage of the competition. Read the announcement.
On April 25, 2022, 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 Project Pitch Champion.
Below is a list of the Solar District Cup Class of 2021-2022 winners in each division.
Class of 2022 Winners
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania Division
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania (Cheyney) is a public, historically black university of over 600 students. Its main campus occupies some 275 acres in the unincorporated community of Cheyney, PA, about 30 miles west of Philadelphia. Founded in 1837, the university is the oldest historically black college in the United States. Cheyney is currently developing a climate action plan with goals to reduce campus consumption of natural gas and electricity, and eventually achieve carbon neutrality at a future date. The challenge areas contained rooftops, ground space, and parking lots on which to consider PV system installations. In addition, students were challenged to design battery energy storage systems that could increase solar capacity, shift load to shave peak power usage, and serve as a resilience asset.
The Creighton University team tailored their proposed solar installations to best fit the needs of Cheyney University. The student team focused on financial instruments to improve the return on investment for both a third-party investor and Cheyney University as the customer, relying on a robust power purchase agreement (PPA) at $0.0531/kWh. The team proposed a conceptual design with both rooftop and single-axis tracking ground-mount systems and a development plan that augmented the financial model. They insured that the planned designs were considered in their distribution impact analysis. The three proposed solar arrays had a combined system design capacity of 941 kW DC. The proposed battery energy storage system provided savings by shaving the evening peak demand.
The Appalachian State University team struck a balance between financial return and customer impact, both in terms of design and savings. The team proposed an aggregate PV system capacity of 1,028 kW DC with 1,340 MWh annual energy production and an apparent combined PPA price of $0.074/kWh. The system included a large, ballasted ground-mount array, a smaller ground-mount array with agrivoltaics research, and a solar canopy park integrated with outdoor green-space amenities. The proposed battery energy storage system provided resiliency for critical loads of the science building.
The Illinois State University Renewable Energy Society team’s proposal included thoughtful details for hosting capacity, battery operation, and colorful solar paver applications. The team proposed 10 solar arrays including rooftop, carport, and ground-mount systems, offsetting about 30% of the campus energy consumption with a combined 3,606 kW capacity and 4,888 MWh annual production for an apparent average PPA price of $0.053/kWh. The proposed battery energy storage system provided resiliency for the dining hall food storage ancillary energy services combined with the solar generation.
The Alamo Community Colleges team, comprising Northeast Lakeview College and San Antonio College, proposed five solar PV arrays with a combined capacity of 912 kW. This team performed in-depth research on campus monetization related to Cheney’s overall objectives.
The Texas Southern University Solar team modeled six solar PV arrays, including rooftop, ground-mount, and parking canopy systems, with a combined capacity of 953 kW offsetting 1,149 MWh or 27% of the campus annual energy usage. This team performed significant research about the legacy and current needs of historically black colleges and universities with a strong focus on community engagement.
The Ohio State University Division
The Ohio State University (OSU) is a public research university of nearly 60,000 students. Its main campus occupies some 1,600 acres in the heart of Columbus, the capital city of Ohio. In 2015, OSU promulgated a set of Sustainability Goals, which include carbon neutrality and other targets to demonstrate environmental and energy leadership. The primary challenge area holds much of the campus’s medical facility infrastructure. For a secondary challenge area, students designed an agrivoltaic system for livestock grazing. The battery energy storage challenge was to increase the resilience of the medical campus by providing additional outage ride-through capabilities and offset back-up power fossil fuel use. When not providing resilience, an unreserved portion of the battery capacity could be used for economic use cases, such as peak shaving and load shifting.
The Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Sol Invicta team made their ‘best and final offer’ to The Ohio State University, including the design of a combined 1,600-kW solar system for seven of nine medical campus buildings and three of four parking carports, as well as an 848-kW agrivoltaic system, providing 2,700 MWh of annual energy production at an apparent PPA price of $0.148/kWh. The battery energy storage system, designed to power three buildings, would provide outage ride-through capabilities for at least 40% of each selected building’s annual peak load, along with peak shaving and load shifting when there is no outage. In addition, Sol Invicta proposed university-branded solar panel skins, electric vehicle chargers in parking garages, and the installation of dual-purpose solar outdoor chairs.
The SIU Carbondale’s Green Roof Team, comprising students from three universities, proposed five solar PV systems to address OSU’s goals: three rooftops, one parking garage canopy, and one agrivoltaics application. The combined systems had a rated capacity of 3,027 kW with an annual energy generation of 3,487 MWh for an apparent PPA price of $0.12/kWh. The three rooftop systems included battery energy storage systems to provide back-up power for critical building loads.
The NC State University team proposed seven solar PV systems, including bifacial panels in the agricultural pasture and a mixture of bi-facial and mono-facial panels on six different structures in the medical campus. The total proposed system capacity was 2,157 kW with an annual energy production of 2,919 MWh. The team determined that smart inverters could alleviate the potential over-voltage risk of the grid-interconnected PV systems. The team used industry best practices to perform detailed system cost build-ups in their financial analysis.
The Energy Club @ Georgia Tech team analyzed 13 rooftop solar systems with a combined rated capacity of 2,424 kW and annual generation of 2,608 MWh. They also designed three parking canopies and one agrivoltaic system application with a combined rated capacity of 1,663 kW and 2,119 MWh annual energy output. This team performed solid financial analysis that demonstrated a thorough understanding of federal tax incentives as the cost bases to which they apply.
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory Division
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) is a DOE Office of Science national laboratory delivering vital mission impacts in energy resiliency and national security. PNNL is currently developing a lab-wide initiative to achieve net-zero emissions and energy-resilient operations by 2030. Distributed energy resources, principally solar and storage, are critical to this vision, especially the resilience aspect. Student teams were required to calculate a PPA price for each of the systems they designed on the PNNL campus. The battery energy storage challenge was for each of two portions of the campus to provide outage ride throughs for critical loads.
The Drexel University “Team Gritty” proposed solar PV and battery systems to boost the energy resiliency of PNNL’s campus operations. For the north section of campus, the team designed a 365-kW ground-mounted solar system, generating 325 MWh per year, with two buildings served by a 230-kW/1,650-kWh battery energy storage system. For the south section of campus, the team designed an 851-kW ground-mounted PV system, producing 651 MWh per year, with three buildings served by a 619-kW/5,750-kWh battery energy storage system. The battery systems were designed to meet 25% of the peak load for the ride-through duration requirements. The comprehensive solution resulted in the total system achieving an estimated PPA of $0.12/kWh, up from $0.94/kWh for solar PV only. The solar-plus-storage solution would give PNNL useful insurance during grid outage events while being powered by renewable energy sources and also considering development plan impacts.
The Carnegie Mellon University team designed a solar-plus-battery storage system to meet PNNL’s resiliency requirements and increase visibility of the district’s decarbonization efforts at the lowest possible cost. Three solar PV footprints were chosen for the design, including two ground-mount areas and one building rooftop. The solar systems had a total rating of 6,092 kWh-DC with annual production of 8,350 MWh and a peak production of 4,936 kW. Combined with the 1.6MW/4-hour battery energy storage system, the apparent PPA price was $0.104/kWh. The proposed PV-plus-battery system design maximizes the use of the available land in servicing the district’s resiliency requirements, recognizing the district’s redevelopment plans as well as community engagement and workforce training.
The Universidad de Puerto Rico, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez team performed a techno-economic analysis of battery energy storage system technologies and proposed three microgrid systems. Microgrid #1 was composed of a 1,100-kW PV system with a 4.2-MWh lithium-ion battery connected to three buildings, and microgrid #2 included a 102-kW PV system with a 30-kWh zinc-bromine energy storage system. Microgrid #3 was composed of a 1,000-kW PV system with a 1-MWh vanadium flow battery, for a starting PPA rate of $0.08/kWh. The team also performed a comprehensive analysis for the project development plan, including risks, research opportunities and community workshops.
The University of Colorado Boulder team proposed four solar PV systems in carport and ground-mount applications, ranging in size from 550 to 1260 kW for a combined annual energy output of 3,840 MWh. This solution would offset roughly 14.5% of the campus grid demand with a weighted average PPA price of $0.104 $/kWh. The team accounted for the distribution line ownership with behind-the-meter systems, including three battery storage systems ranging in size from 4 kW to 620 kW for a mix of outage and peak-shaving services.
Class of 2022 Participating and Finalist Schools
Alfred University (finalist)
Ana G. Méndez University, Gurabo Campus (finalist)
Appalachian State University (finalist)
Arizona State University (finalist)
Benjamin Franklin Institute of Technology
Bergen Community College
Boise State University (finalist)
Broward College (finalist)
California State University, Los Angeles
Carnegie Mellon University (finalist)
Case Western Reserve University (finalist)
Clark Atlanta University
Columbia University (finalist)
Creighton University (finalist)
Drexel University (finalist)
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (finalist)
Georgia Institute of Technology (finalist)
Grambling State University
Illinois State University (finalist)
Miami University (finalist)
Michigan State University (finalist)
NC State University (finalist)
New York University
Northeast Lakeview College (finalist)
Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College
Ohio Northern University (finalist)
Oregon State University-Cascades (finalist)
Pittsburg State University
Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (finalist)
San Antonio College (finalist)
San Jacinto College, South Campus
Santa Clara University (finalist)
Southern Illinois University Carbondale (finalist)
Stevens Institute of Technology
Stony Brook University (finalist)
Tennessee State University (finalist)
Texas A&M University (finalist)
Texas Southern University (finalist)
Texas Tech University
The George Washington University
The Ohio State University (finalist)
The University of Alabama
The University of Arizona (finalist)
The University of Memphis
The University of Minnesota Twin Cities (finalist)
The University of Minnesota Duluth (finalist)
The University of Texas at Austin
The University of Texas at Dallas (finalist)
The University of Texas at San Antonio (finalist)
University at Buffalo, The State University of New York (finalist)
University of Colorado Boulder (finalist)
University of Denver (finalist)
University of Maryland
University of Massachusetts, Lowell
University of Notre Dame
University of Pennsylvania
University of Portland
University of Puerto Rico, Mayagüez Campus (finalist)
University of South Florida
University of Wisconsin-Madison (finalist)
Timeline is subject to change.
- May 12, 2021 – Launch of 2021-2022 competition
- May 17, 2021 – Competition registration opened
- August 18, 2021, 12:00 p.m. ET – Informational Webinar Recording
- August 31, 2021 – Rules released
- September 27, 2021 – Deadline for registration of participating teams
- September 29, 2021 – Participating teams announced
- November 18, 2021 – Deadline for receipt of Progress Deliverable Package from all participating teams
- December 17, 2021 – Finalist teams announced
- April 14, 2022 – Deadline for receipt of Final Deliverable Package from finalist teams
- April 24-25, 2022 – Finalists present their projects to judges and peers at the Final Competition Event
- April 25, 2022 – Winners announced
- Visit the Solar District Cup page on HeroX.
- Learn more about previous competition cohorts.
- Subscribe to competition emails.
- Send questions about the Solar District Cup to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.