PLAN 84: Article
Students Win Twice In White House Competition

Contest Focused on Energy Efficiency in Buildings

For the second year in a row, a team of MIT students – including three this year from SA+P – have won double awards in the Better Buildings Case Competition conducted at the White House by the US Department of Energy.

In support of President Obama's goal of cutting energy waste from homes and businesses by half over the next two decades, the annual competition invites university energy clubs to propose innovative solutions for increasing the efficiency of buildings across the country.

Drawing together skills and experience in urban planning, real estate, engineering and finance, the contest challenges students to come up with creative solutions to real-world problems faced by specific organizations in the public and private sectors, solutions that can be used as models for other organizations across the marketplace.

The competition also helps launch students' careers in energy by introducing them to potential employers. After competing in last year’s contest, for instance, SA+P’s Elena Alschuler (MCP’12) was hired by the Energy Department’s Building Technologies Office to help develop tools for collecting and analyzing data on building energy performance. She was also responsible for writing the competition’s case studies this year.

Fourteen university teams took part in this year’s competition, each assigned two cases based on data provided primarily by Partners in the Better Buildings Challenge program – a broad public-private partnership working toward making the country’s commercial and industrial buildings 20% more efficient by 2020. At the White House this spring, they presented their ideas and written proposals to a panel of commercial real estate and energy experts.

Best Proposal. For the City of Fort Worth Case Study, the MIT team looked at ways for a city with a conservative political climate to encourage energy efficiency in the private sector. They proposed that the city organize an energy data disclosure effort that would help the market internalize the costs of energy and also provide a new resource for privately-led efficiency efforts.

To help build momentum for the initiative they encouraged the development of strong public-private partnerships with community groups, especially faith-based organizations, and with local utilities that have already begun to invest in energy data infrastructure. They also emphasized the importance of creating new sources of financing for private projects.

Most Innovative Proposal. For the ‘Everything Store’ Case Study – the ‘everything store’ representative of several retail stores including Staples, Kohl’s and Target – the MIT team developed a plan to upgrade the heating and cooling units in a national big-box retail chain, suggesting a pilot program that would maximize benefits by varying retrofit strategies according to the specific characteristics of individual stores.

They also proposed that the Everything Store use these efficiency upgrades as an opportunity to enhance its position in the market. By partnering with residential equipment manufacturers, and offering customer loyalty programs that incentivize efficiency, the store could increase its stature in the market while spreading the benefits of energy efficiency to its customer base.

The MIT team comprised Ryan Cook and Chris Jones from the Department of Urban Studies and Planning and Kate Goldstein from the Building Technology group in the Department of Architecture.

Their teammates were Ryan Sheinbein and Dania El Hassan from the Sloan School of Management; Zak Accuardi and Carla Li from the Technology and Policy Program in the School of Engineering; Mehmet Onbasli from the Materials Science Department; and Wardah Inam and Defne Gurel from Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.

They were advised by Harvey Michaels and Stephen Hammer, Lecturers in the planning department’s Environmental Policy and Planning program.