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Informational Only

This challenge is no longer accepting new submissions.

Solar Decathlon 2020 Design Challenge

Love designing high-performance buildings? Ready for the experience of a lifetime? The U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon® Design Challenge is ready for you.

Department of Energy - Energy Programs

Type of Challenge: Creative (design & multimedia)
Partner Agencies | Federal: National Renewable Energy Laboratory
Submission Start: 07/31/2019 12:00 AM ET
Submission End: 11/05/2019 5:00 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 winners will be those teams that best blend architectural and engineering excellence with innovation, market potential, building efficiency, and smart energy production.

The Solar Decathlon “pushes 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.

Teams can start preparing for the Solar Decathlon 2020 Design Challenge, planned for April 17–19, 2020, at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado. Below are key dates for the 2020 Design Challenge:

  • July 2019—Solar Decathlon Competition Guide is released, and the team application opens.
  • September 2019 to March 2020—Webinars and building science trainings are offered.
  • November 5, 2019, 5 p.m. ET—All Design Challenge participating teams must complete the team application.
  • November 26, 2019, 5 p.m. ET—Participating teams can submit an optional five-page Project Introduction.
  • February 18, 2020, 5 p.m. ET—All Design Challenge participating teams must complete the Project Progress Report.
  • March 31, 2020, 5 p.m. ET—All Design Challenge participating teams must submit their Project Reports.
  • April 17‒19, 2020—Finalist teams present project to industry leaders at Design Challenge Weekend.

The Solar Decathlon Design Challenge 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. 2019 Challenge sponsors included:

  • Ingersoll Rand
  • SolarEdge Technologies
  • Affiliated Engineers, Inc.
  • DuPont Building Knowledge Center
  • Gordian
  • HOK
  • Illuminating Engineering Society
  • Mitsubishi Electric Cooling & Heating
  • National Association of Home Builders (NAHB)
  • Owens Corning
  • Plastics Pipe Institute
  • Polyisocyanurate Insulation Manufacturers Association (PIMA)
  • Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA)
  • The Spray Foam Coalition (ACC)
  • Thrive Home Builders



Winning teams are recognized at an awards banquet, 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 national exposure. Collegiate institutions that participate in the Design Challenge are recognized as leaders who are producing career-ready professionals with cutting-edge skills. Industry partners who collaborate with teams gain national and local recognition and have the opportunity to interact with knowledgeable future design and construction professionals.

Design Challenge winners are announced following the Design Challenge Weekend on the Solar Decathlon Website. Winning presentations and project summaries are also published on the website.


Before entering, participants should review competition rules and eligibility criteria, available at

Judging Criteria

Project submissions are evaluated by industry jurors according to 10 Contests:

  1. Energy Performance
  2. Engineering
  3. Financial Feasibility & Affordability
  4. Resilience
  5. Architecture
  6. Operations
  7. Market Potential
  8. Comfort & Environmental Quality
  9. Innovation
  10. Presentation

All Contests are equally weighted. For additional detail on Contest judging criteria, see the Solar Decathlon Design Challenge Rules.

How To Enter

Teams that compete in the annual Solar Decathlon Design Challenge must create residential or commercial building designs over one or two semesters. Designs are evaluated on how well they meet the nation’s rapidly evolving demand for buildings that are innovative, cost-effective, quick to build, high quality, resilient, grid interactive, efficient, and locally responsive.

Design Challenge teams choose to compete in one of six Divisions:

  • Suburban Single-Family
  • Urban Single-Family
  • Attached Housing
  • Mixed-Use Multifamily
  • Elementary School
  • Office Building

Teams may apply and begin projects as early as August of 2019. All teams that apply by the November 5, 2019, deadline are accepted to participate. For the Design Challenge application, each team:

  • Identifies a faculty or student team lead with a preliminary roster of student team members
  • Selects the Division in which it intends to compete
  • Pays a nonrefundable $100 application fee.

Teams are encouraged to submit an optional Project Introduction by November 26, 2019, 5 p.m. ET. Participating teams are confirmed and announced by December. Each team submits a Project Progress Report the following February for evaluation.

Up to 48 finalist teams, eight in each of six Divisions, are selected and invited to compete further with a final Project Report and Presentation of their design at the Design Challenge Weekend, held annually in April at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) main campus in Golden, Colorado.

For this coming cycle, teams that apply by November 2019 and are selected to proceed after submitting their Project Progress Report in February 2020 will be invited to complete their project in March and then present at the Design Challenge Weekend at NREL in April 2020.

First and second place winners, as well as honorable mentions—one from each Division—are determined by juried evaluation across all 10 Contests and awarded with trophies at the annual Design Challenge Weekend. In addition, two Design Challenge Grand Winners are also selected from the pool of six first-place winners and provided with a special award.

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

More information is available at Solar Decathlon Design Challenge Rules.