solar cup team members, smiling at the camera

A team of students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale finished second in its portion of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar District Cup. The team designed a system that integrated solar energy, storage and other technologies for The Ohio State University medical campus. Team members pictured are, from left, Olivia Sapp, Nelson Fernandes, Prem Rana and Aron Taylor. (Photo by Russell Bailey)

June 06, 2022

SIU student team finishes second in the nation in Solar Cup competition

by Tim Crosby

CARBONDALE, Ill. — A team of students from Southern Illinois University Carbondale finished second in its division in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Solar District Cup Collegiate Design Competition.

The Solar District Cup challenges multidisciplinary student teams, including engineering, urban planning, finance and other majors, to design and model distributed energy systems for a campus or urban district. The 2021-2022 competition at The Ohio State University tasked teams to design systems for its medical campus that maximizes energy offset and financial savings.

Kanchan Mondal, director of the School of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Materials Engineering at SIU, who helped organize the team, said SIU’s high finish in its first such competition demonstrates the quality of its education, devotion to student success and commitment to sustainability, which are among the pillars of SIU’s strategic plan, Imagine 2030. 

“The energy and effort from students who have formed and led successful teams also speaks highly of the faculty who are the indirect and often invisible force behind the headlines,” Mondal said. “Our faculty are dedicated to engaging and challenging students beyond the classroom through research and design activities. Taking up a national challenge such as the Solar Cup and preparing them for a successful career is conscientious service to society.”

Mondal singled out SIU student Nelson Fernandes, who graduated in May with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering and who served as project manager for the team. The Solar Cup team was a subgroup of the university’s Green Roof Team, which took its name from an innovative sustainability project started atop the Agriculture Building in 2010. It features space for native plants, growing vegetables and flowers, and conducting research while demonstrating the benefits of sustainable roofs.

Fernandes said the competition focused on skills engineers and professionals need in the field, from initial feasibility and conceptual design to the development plan and final design. 

“During my time at SIU, faculty and professors on campus provided incredible resources and opportunities that allowed me to explore my passions and understand my values professionally and personally,” said Fernandes, who along with other graduates has transitioned the Green Roof team into a business post-graduation.

“Our business’ mission is focused on developing educational kits and courses based on the campus projects we have been working on over the past three years,” he said. “All for the vision of a cleaner and more sustainable world through providing educational opportunities.” 

The SIU team, which also included students from two other universities, submitted its proposal for a photovoltaic (energy-generating) roof system to the competition in late fall and gained entry into the finals, along with 34 other teams from the initial 65.

Along with Fernandes, other team members include Stephen Schulte, senior in computer science from Mascoutah; Olivia Sapp, senior in electrical engineering from Benton, and Aron Taylor, junior in mechanical engineering from Carbondale, from SIU, as well as Gustavo Felicio Perruci, an SIU alumnus now working on his doctorate at the University of Texas at Dallas. Team members also come from Case Western Reserve University and Broward College.

Sponsors and advisers of the team also include Southern Illinois businesses C.H. Electrical in Pittsburg, Supplied Energy in Greenville and AES Solar in Carterville.