Energy students at Duke are snagging top prizes while demonstrating their expertise

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Wednesday, Jan 31, 2018 - 12:20 pm

In 2017, Duke undergraduates and graduate students racked up big wins at a range of state, national, and international energy competitions. And although 2018 is barely underway, we already have some early wins to report! Check out these highlights:

Challenges in Energy Case Competition, UCLA Anderson School of Management

L to R: Soli Shin, Zach Siegel, Dexter Liu, Alexander Szerszen, & Leah Louis-Prescott at the Anderson School of Management (UCLA) Challenges in Energy Case Competition.

#2 (2018) - Zach Siegel (MBA’19), Soli Shin (MEM’18), Dexter Liu (MEM/MBA’19), Alexander Szerszen (MBA’19), and Leah Louis-Prescott (MEM’18) took second place with their business plan to install second-life batteries for en-route, direct current fast chargers (DCFC) for electric bus fleets to reduce demand charges.

#1 (2017) - Liz Arnason (MEM/MBA’18), Yochai Ben Haim (MBA’18),  Mike DeNoia (MEM/MBA’18) and Paige Swofford (MEM/MBA’18) nabbed first place for their business plan for a solar provider to pivot and become an energy consulting firm. Learn more.

Columbia Energy Research Symposium

Paige Swofford, Elihu Dietz, & Jenna Weiner at the Columbia University Research Symposium's case competition.

#3 (2018) -  Colin Walker (MEM’18), Elihu Dietz (MEM’18), Jenna Weiner (MEM/MBA ’19), Paige Swofford (MEM/MBA’18), and Edgar Virguez Rodriguez (PhD’20) placed third with their holistic approach to developing a microgrid to address a coastal town’s energy reliability and resiliency challenges.


Shell Ecomarathon Americas, Electric Vehicle Prototype category ​

Duke Electric Vehicles 2017 co-presidents, left and right, Aniruddh Marellapudi and Patrick Grady, and in center, team driver Caroline Ayanian

​#1 (2017) - The Duke Electric Vehicles (DEV) student group (based in the Pratt School of Engineering) designed a vehicle that gets the electric equivalent of nearly 10,000 miles per gallon and took it to the premier challenge for high-efficiency prototype electric vehicles. The DEV team has performed well in the Eco-Marathon in previous years, posting third- and second-place finishes, but this year their vehicle’s aerodynamic design and new (student-designed) telemetry and real-time data analysis system bested their competition. Learn more.

A screenshot from the team's video submission

‘The Economist’ Case Competition (Sponsored by NRG)

People's Choice Award (2017) - Edgar Virguez (PhD ’20), Colin Walker (MEM ’18), and Jenna Weiner (MEM/MBA ’18) won a top award for their video and report outlining a financial model for a distributed energy system in a 40 MW community in New York (NYISO). Learn more.

Rastogi (L) & Dighe (R)

Go Green in the City Case Competition (Organized and sponsored by Schneider Electric)

#1 in North America, #3 Internationally (2017)- Undergraduates Zui Dighe (E’19 & T'19) and Ankit Rastogi (E’19) took top honors in the continent for their response to an energy management case. Their solution was a remote monitoring system that leverages cloud-based analytics to determine the best renewable energy option for a given community. Their next stop was the international finals in Paris, where they placed third among 11 other teams from (narrowed from an initial pool of 1,900). Learn more.

Click image to view the winning poster.

State Energy Conference of North Carolina Research Poster Presentation -

#1 (2017) - Duke students Samit Sura (MA'17) and Eric Peshkin (T'18) took top honors for their work on "Automated Building Energy Consumption Estimation From Aerial Imagery," completed in coordination with the Energy Initiative's Energy Data Analytics Lab as part of a Bass Connections in Energy & Environment project. Learn more about their project.

What explains this spate of successes?

Duke students love to compete. They just do. So... there’s that. And energy students from a variety of degree programs say they find value in competitions beyond the thrill of the chase.

Case competitions focus on actionable solutions. That’s particularly compelling for students at Duke, where “knowledge in service of society” is a key institutional value. Undergraduate Ankit Rastogi told us that Duke’s “strong culture of taking action on academic research” contributed to his team’s success in the Go Green in the City competition.

Duke’s impressive academic programs in energy—and growing numbers of students interested in energy—are a key ingredient, of course. Energy students are pursuing degrees across six of Duke’s schools, with access to nearly 60 energy courses across the university each year as well as a panoply of cocurricular activities spurred by the Energy Initiative and other units.

Another factor is Duke’s culture of interdisciplinarity, which fosters exchange among students and faculty from diverse fields. Energy degree programs at Duke tend to provide flexibility in course selection, and students often graduate having completed coursework from multiple schools. Some even pursue joint degrees like the MEM/MBA or the PhD in environmental policy offered by the Sanford School of Public Policy and the Nicholas School of the Environment. 

“Our team recognized that it wasn’t enough to come up with a smart solution,” noted MEM/MBA student Jenna Weiner, part of the team in The Economist’s competition. “We also had to be able to explain it in an accessible way, really maximizing the video format for the entries. Most of the other teams were composed solely of MBA students. I think our interdisciplinarity helped us make a great idea into a compelling one.”

Frequent networking and collaboration opportunities hosted by the Energy Initiative bring this interdisciplinary community together—and often connect students and faculty with energy professionals’ insights. The Initiative sends comprehensive weekly updates to Duke students and faculty, capturing energy news, events, and opportunities hosted by units across campus, in addition to many beyond Duke, like the case competitions. Staffers sometimes assist in “matchmaking” teams of students for these competitions, and the Energy Initiative frequently covers associated costs. 

"As Duke continues our emergence as a premier energy institution, it’s not at all surprising that our students are bringing home impressive awards,” said Energy Initiative director Brian Murray. “Whether on the stage or the speedway, their adeptness at finding winning solutions to one of society’s great challenges is a testament to Duke’s commitment to train the energy innovators of tomorrow.”  

Are you a Duke University energy student who wants to receive our email updates? Sign up here to keep informed about energy opportunities on campus and beyond. 

Know about an upcoming energy competition that might interest Duke students? Share it with Stacy Peterson (stacy.peterson@duke.edu), Senior Education Program Coordinator at the Energy Initiative, and we'll spread the word.

Interested in giving opportunities that support energy education at Duke? Contact Sarah Weissberg (sarah.weissberg@duke.edu) at Duke Development or use Duke University’s secure giving site

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