2021 Solar Decathlon Challenge

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PPI's Building & Construction Division has renewed its commitment to the Solar Decathlon - Design Challenge event for 2021. This is PPI’s 7th year supporting this DOE program (formerly known as the Race to Zero).

The 2021 Solar Decathlon Design Challenge took place at DOE's National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden, Colorado on April 16-18, 2021.

Qualifying teams complete a design project and attend Solar Decathlon Design Challenge Weekend, where they present their designs to a panel of industry expert jurors, compare their projects to those of other teams, learn from presentations by thought leaders and collegiate peers, and engage with a variety of organizations about energy careers. Winning teams are recognized at an Awards Banquet, and winning Project Presentations are published on the 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.

Since 2015, PPI is an Education Sponsor and BCD's Director of Engineering Lance MacNevin will return as a juror. He is also available to student teams to guide them on the design of efficient plumbing and mechanical systems.

PPI encourages design teams to incorporate innovative plumbing and mechanical systems to improve the health, safety and welfare of your building occupants and the efficiency of your buildings. This includes systems such as:

  • Fire protection
  • Hot- and cold-water plumbing
  • Hydronic radiant heating & cooling
  • Ground source geothermal piping systems

To provide inspiration and guidance, we are pleased to share the following information about the systems which are based on technologies supported by our organization and our members. Please review the following:

Note: Photo credits to "DOE Solar Decathlon"


The 2021 event accepted entries from 63 teams representing 58 collegiate institutions from the United States, Canada, Australia, India, South Korea, and other countries. Entries were in seven categories of building types (e.g., Urban Single Family, Multi-Family, Elementary School). Teams of Jurors, assigned to each category, utilized an objective scoring scheme to evaluate each of the design entries across ten contests (i.e., “Decathlon”). PPI’s Lance MacNevin was a juror in the Mixed-Use Multifamily Division this year.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 event was held virtually, with students submitting video presentations to the jurors in advance of the Competition Weekend. On April 16-17, each student team gave a live presentation to the jurors, followed by Q&A and discussion. Then, the jurors shared comments, compared scores, and reached consensus to select their category’s first, second, and third place winners.

On April 18th, the seven Division Winners were announced. Following a few minutes of joy, each winning team then gave a summary presentation of their design to the Grand Jurors, who selected two overall Grand Winners for residential and commercial designs. US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm was a guest speaker during these award presentations.

Several of this year’s designs included plastic piping solutions such as hydronic radiant heating/cooling, ground source geothermal exchange, and domestic plumbing, utilizing piping materials represented by PPI’s Building & Construction Division. PPI congratulates all the 2021 top finishers listed here.

Links to the 1st Place Winners:

Urban Single-Family: Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois)

Suburban Single-Family Housing: Ferris State University (Big Rapids, Michigan)

Attached Housing: Marywood University (Scranton, Pennsylvania)

Mixed-Use Multifamily: The University of British Columbia (Vancouver, BC)

Elementary School: University of Oregon (Eugene, Oregon)

Office Building: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia)

Retail Building: Illinois Institute of Technology (Chicago, Illinois)