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Northwestern Energy and Sustainability Graduate Students Win MIT Energy Hack

Tierney Acott | November 19, 2021
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Eight students from Northwestern’s Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability (MSES) program participated in the 2021 MIT Energy Hack November 12-14, applying newly-acquired skills toward building a sustainable future. MSES teams Feeling AMPowered and Crown Joules took home top honors among a field of 56 competing teams, winning $2,000 and $1,500 respectively for their 1st and 2nd place finishes. Crown Joules wasalso voted Best Visualization of Solution.

Event participants were presented with challenges from companies addressing pressing needs related to energy and climate. Teams had 36 hours to hack their assigned challenge and present a solution to company representatives, fellow hackers, and judges. A panel of industry judges ranked solutions and presentations (see full list of winners).

Feeling AMPowered was tasked with proposing solutions that would allow the Smartflower company, a ground-mounted, tracking solar system, to integrate their product into the distributed generation plans of utilities across the United States and the world. The team, comprised of MSES students Oliver Booth, Claire Miller, YC Chua, and Maria Keane, developed a “Smartbouquet”, a virtual power plant that could be achieved through digitization. The deployment of Smartflowers around a city would increase efficiency, flexibility, and reliability, and allow utility companies to have back-up energy storage.

“Most of us had never heard of virtual power plants prior to commencing the MSES program here at Northwestern,” says Maria Keane, “and we felt that the knowledge gained in just a short time in the program gave us a large advantage in proposing this innovative solution. We were able to focus our research on a few main solutions and see where the numbers led us.” Feeling AMPowered spent the weekend synthesizing the last eight weeks of MSES courses and bootcamps to build a presentation, which they constructed using guidelines from the book How to Wash a Chicken by Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing and associate chair of the marketing department in the Kellogg School of Management. “We believe that the presentations by both MSES groups had a distinctively high level of professionalism and clarity, which really set us apart from the other groups. And we also believe that our cohesive teamwork brought us across the finish line,” said Keane.

Crown Joules teammates Nikhil Kapur, Sydney Fitch, Elena Dulger, and Nick Hieb were tasked by Chargepoint with imagining the future of vehicle charging in the fueling and convenience store commercial segment. They understood that building customer excitement, influencing hesitations around range anxiety, and inspiring other customer-centric solutions can make electrification something that society desires. Focusing specifically on the classic American road trip, they examined typical consumer behaviors and typical convenience store and fleet technologies, arriving at a “microgrid” solution. Their design would allow for fast, solar-powered charging and battery-as-a-service for fleet vehicles, altogether increasing resilience and reliability. Each site’s revenue would be further increased through time spent and goods, amenities, and services purchased during the time—a more experiential business model.

“We are so proud of these teams,” says Holly Benz, director of the MSES program and clinical associate professor. “It’s fantastic to see our cohort collaborating and generating feasible market solutions to real world problems, especially in a timed competition like this. These are the skills that we hope to develop in the fast and focused program.”

The Master of Science in Energy and Sustainability (MSES) program is administered by the university-wide Institute for Sustainability and Energy at Northwestern (ISEN).  The degree is conferred by Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering.