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2021 Solar Decathlon Design Challenge

Want to design buildings that help address the most pressing needs of our time? Love the thrill of competing with top students across the country and around the world? If so, the U.S Department of Energy Solar Decathlon ® is for you!

Department of Energy - Energy Programs

Type of Challenge: Creative (multimedia & design)
Partner Agencies | Federal: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Submission Start: 06/15/2020 12:00 AM ET
Submission End: 04/15/2021 05:00 PM ET


The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon is a collegiate competition that challenges student teams to design and build highly efficient and innovative buildings powered by renewable energy. The winning teams will be those that best blend architectural and engineering excellence with creativity, market potential, building efficiency, and smart energy production.

The Solar Decathlon continues to “push the envelope” on the design of the high-performance, efficient, affordable, innovative buildings while leveraging opportunities to foster student innovation, STEM education, and workforce development opportunities.

Collegiate teams that compete in the annual Design Challenge create residential or commercial building designs that will be evaluated on how well they meet the nation’s rapidly evolving demand for innovative, cost-effective, quick-to-build, high-quality, resilient, grid-interconnected, efficient buildings that respond to targeted community needs. Beyond the residential and commercial building types that have been previously offered, the program is excited to add Retail Buildings to the mix. Teams can start planning now for the Solar Decathlon 2021 Design Challenge.

The 2021 Design Challenge will add a new contest focused on the lifecycle impacts of buildings. Teams are encouraged to reduce waste, pollution, and embodied carbon in their designs. In addition, teams should consider how buildings can be reused or repurposed at end-of-life. Partnerships with building owners are also encouraged to develop zero-energy designs for real building projects across the country and around the world.

Details about the Design Challenge are available on the Solar Decathlon website.

Key Dates:

  • June 2020: Design Challenge team application opens.
  • July 2020: Design Challenge Competition Rules are released.
  • October 20, 2020: All Design Challenge participating teams must complete the team application.
  • September 2020 to March 2021: Webinars and building science trainings are offered.
  • April 16-18, 2021: Design Challenge Finalist teams complete their project submissions and compete with presentations to industry leaders. 2020 Build Challenge teams will also present to industry leaders and winners are announced for both Challenges.

The Solar Decathlon partners with building industry sponsors that provide technical support for project teams, invaluable jury feedback, and once-in-a-lifetime networking and talent recruitment opportunities for student participants. See more on the Solar Decathlon Sponsor page.


Winning teams are recognized at an awards banquet with hand-crafted trophies, and winning project presentations are published on the Solar Decathlon website. The competition and winners are promoted through a variety of media outreach efforts, which provide participants and their collegiate institutions an opportunity for international exposure. Collegiate institutions that participate in the Solar Decathlon are recognized as leaders who are producing career-ready professionals with cutting-edge skills.


Terms and Conditions: Before entering, participants should review the complete competition rules and eligibility criteria, available at:


Project submissions are evaluated by jurors according to 10 Contests in the Rules. All Contests are equally weighted.

How to Enter:

2021 Design Challenge Teams may apply and begin projects as early as June 2020. All teams that apply by the October 20, 2020, deadline will be accepted to participate.

For the application, each team:

  • Identifies a faculty lead
  • Pays a nonrefundable $100 application fee

Participating teams are confirmed and announced in November. Competition and submission dates are outlined in the Rules.

Ready to learn more? Teams interested in participating in the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge should carefully review the complete set of entry requirements, available in the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge Competition Guide.

Point of Contact

Have feedback or questions about this challenge? Send the challenge manager an email