2018 Challenge Winners


Cade Lawson, Economics Undergraduate Student at the Georgia Institute of Technology

The Challenge: Open "What-If" Challenge: Connecting the Right data at the Right Time to Improve Residential Building Performance. The objective of this challenge was to identify and design approaches to influence homeowner decisions to optimize their energy use.

The Idea/Solution:

    An exploration of the U.S. Department of Energy's 2009 Residential Energy Consumption Survey revealed a deep discrepancy between energy consumption habits of older adults (65+) and the rest of the population. Despite the impending increase in the size of this older adult population, there is no research into potential solutions for helping older adults reduce energy consumption to a level more in line with the rest of the United States. Cade's team proposed a messaging intervention using "generative messaging" based on the theory of generativity proposed by social and developmental psychologist Eric Erickson, which states that older adults face a decision between finding fulfillment via nurturing future generations or enduring social stagnation. The challenge was to provide messaging that convinces older adults that changing energy consumption behavior for the benefit of those around them is an adequate means of achieving generative fulfillment. This tests a new incentive structure outside of the commonly attempted approaches (normative and financial). Because behavioral incentives have the estimated upper impact of a 20% reduction in energy consumption, Cade's team believed that tailoring their approach to a specific subpopulation and using a new approach would help improve on the 3–5% reduction achieved by other studies. Click here to see Cade's idea.

Status and Next Steps:

    At the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Cade worked on analysis software called ComStock that allows users to model the entire commercial building stock of the United States and apply different energy-reducing measures to gauge potential savings. Cade's role was to identify nonweather seasonal factors that impact energy use within commercial buildings and implement them within the model, generally by developing predictive models based on existing data related to factors such as tourism, hotel occupancy, and building-level electricity use, and then write OpenStudio measures to make necessary adjustments within the framework of ComStock.

Sarah Tinsley, Economics Undergraduate Student at the Georgia Institute of Technology

The Challenge: Open "What-If" Challenge: Connecting the Right data at the Right Time to Improve Residential Building Performance. The objective of this challenge was to identify and design approaches to influence homeowner decisions to optimize their energy use.

The Idea/Solution:

    In the area of energy efficiency (EE) for residential buildings, we face the challenges of observing EE and changing human behavior. Part of the issue is that neither a market nor an industry standard exists for home EE evaluation. The U.S. Department of Energy's (DOE’s) solution is the Home Energy Score (HES) program. DOE is currently working on the back end of this program but needs to start looking to the next step of creating a user interface for the homeowner. Based on challenges and recommendations from a homeowner feedback survey, Sarah's team suggested an online, interactive dashboard that will leverage data to allow homeowners to better apply their HES. This dashboard will include messaging and goal-setting mechanisms and a “What-If Tool” to virtually apply the Recommendations section from the homeowner’s HES report. In addition, the dashboard will integrate with existing DOE programs to provide a centralized, convenient access point, reduce “transaction costs” for the homeowner, and provide links to the housing market (i.e., multiple listing services and other listing sites). Lastly, Sarah's team proposed a matched pairs experimental design to test the effectiveness of our dashboard’s behavioral science functionalities. They suggested running this experiment in Portland, Oregon, because of the city’s recent legislation that requires sellers of single-family homes to dislose their HES report and score at the time of listing. The short-term impact of their solution is that a centralized location for homeowner EE resources will allow homeowners to understand and apply their HES and to invest in specific EE upgrades to improve their HES, all of which will legitimize the HES as a metric of home EE. In the long run, this dashboard will help many cities achieve carbon emissions reductions similar to those in Portland, reduce the information asymmetry concerning EE that is currently present in the real estate market, provide more homeowner data to DOE, and allow for the integration of the HES as a label in markets for home building materials. Click here to see Sarah's idea.

Status and Next Steps:

    Sarah worked under the mentorship of Dr. Piljae Im on a project titled “Building Energy Modeling (BEM) for ORNL Buildings,” which involves modeling real buildings in the area using EnergyPlus and OpenStudio. The project involves comparing the simulation outputs to the real energy data of those buildings and then calibrating the models to increase the accuracy, efficiency, and reliability of the models. After the calibration process, the models will be used to apply and evaluate potential energy conservation measures. Throughout this project, Sarah assisted the team in creating new baselines for a few machine shop space types, which the team plans to include in a conference paper.

Carl Woodard, Mechcanical Engineering Undergraduate Student at the University of Tennesse-Knoxville

The Challenge: Open "What-If" Challenge: Connecting the Right data at the Right Time to Improve Residential Building Performance. The objective of this challenge was to identify and design approaches to influence homeowner decisions to optimize their energy use.

The Idea/Solution:

    Carl's challenge solution is a microcontroller named Auto-Stat that uses users’ GPS location to manage the energy consumption of their home air-conditioning unit. The low-cost design of Auto-Stat provides users with a low-level investment with a quick return through simple energy waste elimination and illustrates total savings to incentivize its use. Click here to see Carl's idea.

Status and Next Steps:

    Because of the success of the project, Carl was offered a position at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) in Golden Colorado. His work at NREL focused thermal energy storage through the use of phase change materials (PCMs). These PCMs have specific melting/freezing points that allow them to take advantage of the sharp increase in heat capacity that occurs during melting/freezing. To make use of the PCMs’ advantages, the material is impregnated into a porous expanded graphite (EG) matrix that improves thermal conductivity. Carl's work on this project involved executing and improving test procedures used to quantify various properties of the EG/PCM matrices and to optimize use of various additives for maximum performance.

2019 Final Competition Photos, April 2019 @ NREL


2019 Summer Internship Photos, @ NREL and ORNL