This is an excerpt from EERE Network News, a weekly electronic newsletter.

March 05, 2012

Secretary Chu Announces Winners of Student Competition to Promote Energy-Efficient Buildings

As part of President Obama's all-of-the-above energy strategy, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced the winners of a competition that challenges collegiate students to develop and present real-world solutions to boost the energy efficiency of buildings across the country. Secretary Chu recognized the winners of the Better Buildings Case Competition, part of the Energy Department's Better Buildings Challenge, at an event at the White House Friday afternoon, and congratulated them for their efforts to tackle some of the most common and stubborn barriers to improving energy efficiency. The winners included Carnegie Mellon University, Columbia University, The George Washington University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of California at Berkeley, University of Colorado Denver, and University of Southern California.

This competition provides the next generation of engineers, entrepreneurs and policymakers with skills and experience to start careers in clean energy and generates creative solutions to real-world problems to be used as models by businesses and other organizations across the marketplace.

"Through the Better Buildings Case Competition, the Energy Department is inspiring the clean energy workforce of tomorrow to find innovative solutions that will save energy and money for American families and businesses," said Secretary Chu. "We hope that the high-impact ideas presented by these talented students today will help the companies, cities, universities and other partners participating in the President's Better Buildings Challenge to identify cost-effective, energy-saving improvements they can make in their own buildings."

Nineteen university teams—led by their respective energy clubs—analyzed case studies focusing on a range of challenges faced by private-sector organizations and state and local governments, who are looking to improve the energy efficiency of their operations. The case studies consisted of real scenarios, background information, and data provided primarily by Partners in the Better Buildings Challenge program, a broad public-private partnership working to achieve President Obama's goal of making America's commercial and industrial buildings 20% more efficient by 2020.

The student teams competed to find the best solutions to the energy efficiency challenges presented in real-world case studies for the City of Houston, the District of Columbia, HEI Hotels and Resorts, and Cassidy Turley, a major commercial real estate firm. Read more information on the specific case studies and criteria for selection.

Secretary Chu first announced the competition at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in November. On Friday afternoon, the students presented their ideas and written proposals to a panel of commercial real estate and energy experts at the White House.

The following university teams won their respective competitions:

City of Houston Case Study

  • Best Proposal—George Washington University
    The proposal addressed the root causes of energy efficiency challenges by recommending a realistic package of policy, financing and stakeholder engagement and communication strategies to be implemented by the City of Houston.
  • Most Innovative—University of California, Berkeley
    This team presented an innovative idea to use Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds for private owners to bring affordable financing for energy efficiency upgrades to buildings, helping the City of Houston achieve its energy efficiency goals for its commercial buildings.

District of Columbia Case Study

  • Best Proposal—Carnegie Mellon
    This team recommended an outright sale or long-term lease of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center site to a master developer. The terms of the contract would require the master developer to meet water and energy sustainability milestones, while the District would award property tax refunds to the developer to meet these goals. All of the incentives would be revenue-neutral to the District and structured to reward achievement of the goals.
  • Most Innovative—MIT
    This team demonstrated a clear understanding of energy efficiency issues and proposed integrated approaches that would drive energy and water efficiency. They proposed a district energy system based on a build-own-and-operate service model to provide energy, manage the distribution system and interface with customers. The proposed financing for the system would come from the provider or through a lender, instead of by issuing revenue bonds.

HEI Hotels and Resorts Case Study

  • Best Proposal—Columbia University
    This team presented two options with the potential to help hotel property owners meet and exceed their performance improvement plans while saving energy and money. One option requires no investment from the franchisor by using a combination of loans, tax incentives, rebates, and participation in energy efficiency programs. The other option requires a loan from the franchisor, which the property owner proposes to pay back at a seven percent interest rate.
  • Most Innovative—University of Colorado, Denver
    This team presented three options to help hotel operators reduce their energy costs by adjusting their operations, which will save energy and allow the hotels to improve performance with no investment by the franchisor. To accomplish this, the franchisor would establish a revolving loan fund.

Cassidy Turley Case Study

  • Best Proposal—MIT
    This team proposed four steps to improve the energy efficiency of a multitenant office building, including engaging and negotiating with tenants in the realistic, multiphase project, implementing energy efficiency upgrades, aligning new tenants as leases turn over, and launching a "Go for Green" program. Their solution demonstrated understanding of commercial real estate realities and the motivations of an owner and tenants.
  • Most Innovative—University of Southern California
    This team ran a sophisticated energy model to make recommendations for energy efficiency upgrades of the multitenant office building, which would be implemented through a multiphase financing and lease renegotiation process.

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