CMU team wins Better Buildings contest

From left to right are team members Matthew Plunkett, Matineh Eybpoosh, Rubén Morón, Casey Canfield, Vedran Lešic and Nathaniel Horner. Julian Lamy is not pictured.
 (credit: Mireille Mobley) From left to right are team members Matthew Plunkett, Matineh Eybpoosh, Rubén Morón, Casey Canfield, Vedran Lešic and Nathaniel Horner. Julian Lamy is not pictured. (credit: Mireille Mobley) Julian Lamy,  a member of the CMU Better Buildings Case Competition team. (credit: Julian Lamy) Julian Lamy, a member of the CMU Better Buildings Case Competition team. (credit: Julian Lamy)

Today, students pride themselves on much more than just attending classes and getting good grades. Along with classes, many students are involved in various extracurricular activities to supplement their education, and Carnegie Mellon students are no exception. A perfect example is the team of Carnegie Mellon graduate students who participated in the U.S. Department of Energy’s Better Buildings Case Competition, an annual competition that addresses real-world energy concerns. The team, Team Everpower, won two “Best Proposal” awards for their solutions.

The Better Buildings Case Competition began in 2012 and aims to give college students an opportunity to gain skills and experience related to careers in clean energy. The program upholds Obama’s Better Buildings Initiative goal to reduce energy consumption by at least 20 percent by 2020 in commercial and industrial buildings across the United States.

The competition incorporates a variety of different energy efficiency topics. The Department of Energy, along with other case partners, develops a number of cases which incorporate real world energy problems. These cases are distributed to the student teams, who have approximately three months to produce 10-page solutions based on the information provided and their own research. After three months, students meet in Washington, D.C. for a one-day workshop where all the teams present their solutions to expert judges and case partners.

This year’s culminating event was held on March 14 at the Department of Energy headquarters and brought together 25 participating universities, including Carnegie Mellon, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, Stanford University, Yale University, Columbia University, and the Universities of California, Santa Barbara, San Diego, and Berkeley.

Team Everpower included students from a variety of disciplines. The final team consisted of Matineh Eybpoosh, a doctoral student in civil and environmental engineering; Rubén Morón, a master’s student in the School of Architecture; Matthew Plunkett, a master’s student in the Tepper School of Business; Vedran Lešic, a Fulbright scholar in engineering and public policy; and doctoral students in engineering and public policy Casey Canfield, Julian Lamy, and Nathaniel Horner.

“Someone from [engineering and public policy] has been on the team every year,” explained Canfield. “We had a bunch of engineering students interested, but we had to work a little bit harder to get people from Tepper and people from architecture.”

The team was assigned two cases. The first, titled “Picking up PACE: Taking Commercial PACE Financing to Scale,” involved the development of a program and business plan for states to enact Property Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing, a method of attaching loans to buildings instead of a person, while increasing energy efficiency.

As a solution, the team proposed using a diffusion model to build up the program over time and placed an emphasis on the advertisement of the non-energy savings benefits of energy-efficiency such as increased health and productivity.

“The judges said it was the most realistic and complete proposal, which is why I think we ended up winning,” said Canfield.

The second case assigned to Team Everpower was titled “A Side of Savings: Energy Efficiency in the Restaurant Franchise Model.” This case dealt with incentives for fast-food restaurants to invest in energy efficiency. The team proposed a competition between restaurants that would use cash prizes to encourage energy efficiency through behavioral changes and investment in new technology.
“The idea is that each store that participates would realize the benefits of any of these measures that they took, whether it’s investing in new equipment or improving their processes, but in addition to that there’s the incentive to participate because of the competition,” said Lamy. “It would give all stores a kind of common ground and common platform to invest in different things.”
For each case, two awards were given out: “Most Innovative” and “Best Proposal.” Team Everpower won “Best Proposal” for both of their cases.
The members of Team Everpower also commented on the benefits they personally gained from the competition.

“For me, coming from an engineering background, the interesting part was working on a real project and learning how I can apply technical knowledge to real issues,” said Eybpoosh. “We had people in our group from many different backgrounds and that also helped me have a bigger picture of what I have learned in the engineering department.”

The team also stressed the fact that these benefits are not limited to graduate students. “One of the things that’s interesting about this competition is that there aren’t different levels, so undergraduates compete against graduate students. We really wanted undergraduates on the team because this would be a really great opportunity for undergraduates to get experience,” explained Canfield.

“It’s a good opportunity for Carnegie Mellon undergraduates to get into [research] and learn how it works,” added Eybpoosh.