F&ES Students Take Top Honors at U.S.-Sponsored Energy Competition

Yale teams at DOE Better Buildings Competition
Two teams of students from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) were awarded “best proposal” honors during the U.S. Department of Energy’s third annual Better Building Case Competition held this month in Washington, D.C.

Each five-member team won its respective competition during the event, which challenges students to develop strategies to reduce energy waste and improve efficiencies through a series of hypothetical case studies.

It was the second consecutive year that both Yale teams participating in the national contest won their competitions.

One of the Yale teams developed a municipal plan to more effectively manage energy use in publicly owned buildings as part of a case study scenario called “Electri-City.” The other team designed a solar investment program for a utility company, for the “Here Comes the Sun” case study.
The competition was pretty tough and there was extra pressure since both Yale teams won best proposals last year, too. So the bar was set pretty high.
— Truman Mak
Thirty different teams participated in the competition. Other teams receiving honors included students from Harvard University, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, the University of California — Santa Barbara, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“The competition was pretty tough and there was extra pressure since both Yale teams won best proposals last year, too,” said Truman Mak M.E.M. ’14, a member of the team charged with addressing municipal energy use. “So the bar was set pretty high.”

Other Yale students on the “Electri-City” case team were Michael Brod M.E.M. ‘14, Benjamin Butterworth M.E.M. ‘14, Jorge Enrique Lopez M.E.M. ‘15, and Robert Orvis M.E.M. ‘14. Members of the “Here Comes the Sun” case team were Simon Gore M.E.M. ‘15, Emily Greenlee M.E.M. ‘14, Hilary Staver M.E.Sc. ‘14, Marley Urdanick M.E.M. ‘15, and Robert Youngs M.E.M. ‘15.

The competition was created to support the DOE’s larger goal of reducing energy consumption in commercial, multi-family, public and industrial buildings by at least 20 percent over the next decade while encouraging college students to come up with their own innovation solutions.

One of the Yale teams was challenged to prepare a “scalable, sustainable, and replicable energy and data acquisition and management strategy” for a hypothetical mid-sized city.

In response, the students conducted research on how different U.S. cities have handled similar challenges, how larger cities have achieved energy reductions, and how the private sector has tackled the issue.

From there, they developed a plan that would assess current energy use in municipal buildings, create a low-cost efficiency management system through building upgrades and software tracking, and introduce incentives for city workers to reduce energy use.

“Our approach was to find a fine-tuned cocktail of which solutions worked best in the case we were presented with,” Mak said.
The finance part was especially interesting because there is so much new ground being broken in solar finance right now.
— Truman Mak
The other Yale group was asked to develop a solar energy strategy for a utility company faced with a new Renewable Portfolio Standard carve-out calling for 4 percent of electricity to come from solar energy.

“So we had to decide what types of solar assets we were going to invest in, what percentage of the carve-out should be met with each asset type, and how we were going to finance the whole portfolio,” said Hilary Staver. “The finance part was especially interesting because there is so much new ground being broken in solar finance right now.”

Their plan included a series of measures to reduce the costs of so-called “soft costs” associated with solar development, including the non-hardware costs associated with permitting, installation, labor, and public advertising.

In addition to calling for a more streamlined, online permitting process and peer-influenced advertising, they suggested that the utility could reduce capital costs by utilizing a financial tool known as securitization, in which sources of debt are sold to investors on the secondary market.

Some of these strategies related to reducing soft costs, Staver said, are areas of active research at the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale (CBEY), a joint initiative of F&ES and the Yale School of Management. “So it was nice for us to work on something that a couple of us on the team already had some on-the-ground experience with,” she said.
– Kevin Dennehy    kevin.dennehy@yale.edu    203 436-4842