Duke Team Awarded Semi-Finalist Prize in Spark Clean Energy Competition

A team of Duke students were recently selected as semi-finalists for the Spark Clean Energy Competition. Co-President of the Energy Club, Nathan Hsieh, and two underclassmen studying Energy – Lauren Shum and Victoria Cheng – entered into the [Em]powering Grid Resilience Competition in early November. Their innovative business model aimed at using smart technology to facilitate communication between residential homeowners and large-scale utilities companies in order to achieve faster blackout response times.

Currently, utilities companies rely on call-ins from customers to determine the affected area, upon which they send out a response fleet. The proposed business model was aimed at simplifying, purchasing on wholesale, and distributing RFID and geographically tagged smart plugs onto refrigerators. These smart plugs transmit minute-by-minute, binary electricity data to a website. This information would be then plotted onto a heat map so that utilities companies could immediately tell the affected area – and be able to adequately respond in order to recoup costs on generated electricity.
The innovation also provided an analysis of how to use statistics and machine learning to correctly determine whether or not a fleet would need to be dispatched, as well as an accompanying technological mobile feature. Using this web-based system, residential consumers could check in to see when they could expect fixes to be made, and what the scope of the blackout was. As semi-finalists, the Duke team was awarded $200 and a feature on the venture capital firm’s website. The team looks forward to entering into further competitions in the future.