MRO Magazine

Student Teams Compete in National Electricity Innovation Competition

February 24, 2015
By Business Wire News


More than 40 students from universities across the United States submitted concepts to the 2014 “[Em]Powering Grid Resilience Student Innovation Competition.” Undergraduate and graduate students were invited to submit ideas to build a more “resilient and climate-ready” electricity grid with technologies such as drones, smartphone apps, and social media analytics. The competition was organized by Spark Clean Energy and sponsored by Chicago-based electric utility ComEd and its parent company, Exelon, the nation’s leading competitive energy provider.

Eighteen teams including those from Cornell University, Illinois Institute of Technology, Middlebury College, Duke University, University of Southern California, Stevens Institute of Technology, and the University of Michigan participated in this ideation competition designed to bring diverse teams together to develop innovative ideas and solutions to address challenges facing the modern electricity grid. Submissions were judged by an expert panel including representatives from the think tank Rocky Mountain Institute, energy technology research firm GTM Research, venture capital fund Energy Foundry, as well as executives from ComEd and Exelon. The first, second, and third place teams were awarded cash prizes and presented their ideas at the 2015 ARPA-E Energy Innovation Summit in Washington, D.C. on February 9.

Mark Silberg, Executive Director of Spark Clean Energy, described the competition as a unique opportunity for graduate and undergraduate students to grapple with energy innovation. “Spark Clean Energy seeks to strengthen the innovation pipeline on college campuses and connect students with leaders across the energy sector. That’s why we are tremendously excited to partner with ComEd and Exelon to showcase the great work of students designing real-world solutions. We are proud to continue supporting student researchers, entrepreneurs, and thought-leaders.”

Val Jensen, senior vice president of Customer Operations at ComEd added, “Innovation fuels the evolution of the electric power industry, and there are few investments that can return more when we build the right collaborations. We applaud the top three teams, and all the participants, for their leadership in this area.”

“Innovation is key to creating a more resilient and responsive electrical grid and better serving our customers,” said Sonny Garg, senior vice president and chief information and innovation officer of Exelon. “We congratulate the winners of the Spark Clean Energy competition and are excited to learn from their ideas.”

Team eRespond, from University of Southern California, integrated social media analytics with storm assessment technology to improve utility storm response and enhance customer engagement. They were awarded first place after an hour-long interview with judges. According to eRespond team member Louie Sloss, “We feel that the entire competition has been a fantastic opportunity and outlet for our ideas in the energy sector. It was particularly enlightening to get to discuss the details of our concept with the knowledgeable and experienced judging panel that Spark Clean Energy was able to assemble.” His teammate Payam Yeganeh continues, “[the competition was] different from other new venture seed or business plan competitions. Our team tackled a real wicked problem that is affecting thousands of people, and we could work out a solution to mitigate it.”

Forrest Carroll, a student at Middlebury College, reflected, “This competition was a great starting point that has already launched me into analyses of utility customer needs, local and national behavioral demand response programs, and the growing importance of grid resilience in the face of climate change and the concomitant increases in extreme weather events.”

Below are the profiles of the first, second, and third place teams:

First place: eRespond, University of Southern California

eRespond enables effective use of social media as a two-way collaborative communication channel between utility and its consumers during and after a weather event. The core of system is social media analytics and integration of storm assessment technologies including unmanned aerial systems (UAS) to improve storm response and enhance customer engagement.

Second place: EnerGage, Cornell University

EnerGage is an interactive smartphone app that helps communities work together. It provides a compelling value-add for customers by helping them save energy, prepare for the storm, and weather it. In turn, the utility increases its engagement with its customers, strengthening the utility’s value proposition in an increasingly disruptive industry.

Third place: ReGrid, Middlebury College

ReGrid was designed to fill the correspondence and convenience gaps faced by electricity stakeholders while simultaneously empowering consumers to make informed choices about energy use. The app is a one-stop-shop that aggregates customer payments and energy use, and it provides an additional platform for the exchange of information during outages.

To learn more about this competition and the winning teams, visit

Spark Clean Energy
Butch Frey, (513) 602-8824