Events & Media

First-place Awards for Bren Students at DOE Buildings Competition
Teo yeams created solutions that could help fulfill a presidential energy initiative

Last month, two teams of Bren School master's students brought home a pair of first-place awards in the "Most Innovative" category at the third annual U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Better Buildings Case Competition, held March 14 in Washington, D. C.

The 2014 competition challengds collegiate teams to present unique and innovative solutions for reducing energy waste and improving the efficiency of the nation’s homes and commercial buildings to industry leaders. Winning student teams came from UCSB, UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, Yale University, Stanford University, Columbia University, and MIT.

Team XEnergy 1 members (from right) Harry Bergmann, Laura Nicholson, Katharine Tejano, Ben White, and Kavitha Nambiar pose with a competition official after receiving their "Most Innovative"awards.

The annual competition supports President Obama's broader Better Buildings Initiative goal to reduce energy consumption in commercial, multifamily, public, and industrial buildings across the U.S. by at least 20 percent in the next ten years and encourages college students to come up with new, innovative ways that American families and businesses can save energy and money. To date, university teams have presented more than 100 energy- efficiency solutions to more than 60 businesses, organizations, agencies and governments.

Competing teams registered at the end of 2013 and then received a collection of case studies. Each team ranked its preferences from first to last and was then assigned one calse to work on. Three months later, they traveled to DOE headquarters in Washington, D. C., to present their results before a panel of expert judges.

Team XEnergy 2 members (from right) Ian Creelman, Skyler Murphy, and Stephanie Harris pose with a competition official after receiving their "Most Innovative" awards. Not shown, because they were unable to attend the awards presentation in Washington D.C., are Casey O'Hara and Spencer Middleton.
The criteria for the Most Innovative award was that the solution be feasible but also something not currently being done, "something outside the box but practical and doable," said Kavitha Nambiar, who added, "It was a great experience. Five of us had never been to D.C. before, and most of the time we were in the in the city where the action was. It was good competing against and interacting with people from top universities."

The case taken on by Team XEnergy 1 was "Welcome Home to Savings: Distributed Generation in Multi-family Housing Case Study."

For that challenge, second-year MESMs Harry Bergmann, Kavitha Nambiar, and Ben White collaborated with first-years Laura Nicholson and Katherine Tejano to develop a replicable strategy to expand energy efficiency and distributed generation at federally assisted housing complexes. The Bren students received the only Most Innovative award for that case.

This is the second victory for team members Harry Bergmann and Ben White, who joined fellow Bren students James Choe and Justin Lichter (both MESM 2013) on a team that included several undergraduate UCSB students.

"The competition was a great learning and networking experience," said Bergmann. "I got to connect with other BBCC participants from this and prior years as well as EDF Climate Corps fellows I worked with last summer. It was a great feeling being recognized for the 'Most Innovative Proposal' and even better knowing that we came up with solutions that really pushed the boundaries of the challenges outlined in the cases."

The second Bren team took on the case "Experimenting with Efficiency: Greening the Grant Process for Research Institutions." For their solution, Team XEnergy 2 members and first-year MESM students Ian Creelman, Stephanie Harris, Spencer Middleton, and Skyler Murphy joined second-year MESM Casey O'Hara to develop a business case and implementation strategy for universities to promote energy-efficiency projects on their campuses, funded by external grants. The UC Berkeley team also received a Most Innovative award for that case.

"The competition was a great experience and helped me develop and demonstrate some of the knowledge, skills and interdisciplinary, innovative thinking that I’m learning here at the Bren School," said Creelman. "It was a lot of work in addition to my full graduate course load, but it was worthwhile and I'm proud of what we were able to accomplish. It was very satisfying to win among such strong competition, and for the rest of the trip after the award ceremony I felt a sense of euphoria and accomplishment. We again demonstrated that Bren is a force to be reckoned with in the environmental science and management sector.

"After I presented our case solutions to the judges, I felt it was well received," he added. "We put a lot into the competition and gave it our all. That in itself would have made it a rewarding experience, but it doesn’t hurt to win an award."

For Harris, the competition was a chance to develop the collaborative skills that are needed to succeed at the Bren School. "This project was a nice introduction to the [Bren] Group Project and really helped me understand group dynamics and how to get people to work together effectively. I was lucky to be working with the four other people on my team, who are really knowledgeable in this field, and it was great to be able to learn from one another and bounce ideas off each other."

And while winning was sweet, she added, "Our motivation throughout the process was never really to win, but to submit a proposal and deliver a presentation that we were proud of. I never imagined we would walk away with an award. We were all excited to win "Most Innovative Solution" for both of our cases, because the judges were able to recognize that the solutions we presented were not only practical, but also original and exciting."

Find out more about the competition.