A team of Georgia Tech students was awarded 2nd place in the U.S. Department of Energy Solar District Cup competition. The Solar District Cup (SDC) is a competitive, nationwide competition where multi-disciplinary teams of students are challenged to design and model an optimized distributed energy system for one of three districts. There were eight other teams competing in the Georgia Tech team’s district. The districts chosen for the competition are designated as “mixed-use,” meaning there are a wide variety of energy demands and needs to consider in the design.
The student teams were tasked with integrating solar energy technologies and energy storage to best serve their assigned district. The multi-disciplinary approach to this competition meant students had to integrate urban planning, finance, and other related disciplines into their final proposals. Teams were judged based on the highest offset of energy and greatest financial savings on an annual basis over the district’s conventional energy suppliers. Judges evaluated a techno-economic analysis conducted by the students as well as from a team design presentation.
The Georgia Tech team was led by Austin Fan, a Junior in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering (ChBE), Ph.D. student Matthew Warner (ChBE), Freshman Katie Kang (ChBE), and Sophomore Jake Churchill of the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering. The students were advised for this project by Dan Molzahn, Ph.D., from the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Sam Talkington, Graduate Research Assistant in the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Tyler Pilet, Doctoral candidate with the Georgia Tech High Performance Building Group in the School of Architecture. Molzahn also serves as the faculty advisor to the Georgia Tech Energy Club.
The students’ assigned district was the Auraria Higher Education Center (AHEC), a mixed-use, mixed-institution campus operated by the City of Denver, which came with some unique constraints as well as some advantages. Feedback from the judges revealed that the Georgia Tech team scored well in large part because they kept the needs of the client at the center of their proposed solution. Their design went beyond the utilization of renewable energy by emphasizing how their design conformed with the AHEC’s sustainability goals, such as greenhouse gas reductions, energy efficiency benefits, and community outreach and education about the benefits of their design.
“These students are part of the clean energy future this nation is counting on,” said Acting Assistant Secretary for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Kelly Speakes-Backman. “When these talented, diverse students enter the workforce, their ingenuity and skill will contribute to lower electricity costs, expanding solar energy deployment for more Americans, and the decarbonization of our energy infrastructure and economy.”
Georgia Tech team lead Austin Fan said he learned many valuable lessons from this experience that he will carry into his professional life. One of his biggest take-aways was understanding the role of a leader. “You can’t be an expert in everything like you are expected to be for a class project. So, it’s much better to delegate different aspects of the project to others to be experts in those topics. As a project manager, it is most important to be aware of everyone’s work and be able to talk about it at a high-level, and to be a champion for your team-mates.”
Brent Verrill, Research Communications Program Manager, SEI
Last revised May 25, 2021