DOE-Sponsored Competitions Promote Renewables

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Innovation can be expanded by embracing different perspectives, but the STEM fields still lack representation from women and people of color. To attract individuals with diverse backgrounds to the clean energy sector, it is crucial to spark their interest in STEM at an early age. This is why the US Department of Energy (DOE) has been supporting student competitions for over three decades.

The collegiate Advanced Vehicle Technology Competitions were launched by DOE in 1988, and more than 30,000 students from 95 institutions have participated in them to date. The EcoCar Electric Vehicle Challenge is the latest four-year competition, and 15 universities, including five minority-serving institutions (MSIs), have been selected to engineer a battery-electric vehicle using industry-grade components, tools, and methods.

In 2002, DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) initiated the Solar Decathlon to train the next generation of building professionals. Participants construct high-performance buildings that run on renewable power. The Solar Decathlon has engaged more than 25,000 students from over 40 countries. The winners of the 2023 competition can be found on the DOE website.

DOE now funds a range of competitions to prepare the next generation of STEM professionals and entrepreneurs while ensuring that future generations reflect America’s diversity. The objective is to provide students with an entry point into the renewable energy sector and opportunities to engage with industry professionals and their local communities.

College Competitions in Renewables

EERE’s Bioenergy Technologies Office recently announced the winners of the AlgaePrize, a competition that encourages students to design and develop technologies for scaling up algae production for low-cost sustainable fuels. The five winning teams were awarded $10,000 each, with the Grand Champion receiving an additional $5,000. The winners are invited to present their research at the Algae Biomass Summit in Wisconsin this fall, providing an opportunity to network and make professional connections. Gilberto Ramos Ribera, a member of the FitoEnergy team, noted that their group is comprised of individuals from Peru, Colombia, Chile, and Puerto Rico.

EERE also sponsors various other student competitions in the renewable energy sector. For instance, the Marine Energy Collegiate Competition and Hydropower Collegiate Competition challenge students to develop solutions for hydropower challenges and the emerging marine energy industry. Fourteen MSIs, including Hispanic-serving institutions (HSIs), tribal colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, and Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander (AANAPISI) institutions, have participated in these competitions.

The Solar District Cup requires students to design, model, and optimize distributed energy systems for buildings that share an electrical distribution feeder. This year, teams from 39 schools, including 11 MSIs, are participating in the competition, which has doubled the rate of MSI finalists in the past two years. The 2023 Solar District Cup finalists can be found on the DOE website.

The Collegiate Wind Competition challenges students to design, build, and test a prototype wind turbine and develop a site plan and cost-of-energy analysis for a hypothetical wind farm. Twelve MSIs, including eight HSIs and six AANAPISIs, have participated in the competition.

The Geothermal Collegiate Competition prepares students to scale up geothermal technologies while prioritizing the unique needs of individual communities. In 2022, the top three teams were awarded over $17,000 combined for designing solutions for under-resourced and tribal communities.

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