October 27th, 2016 -Over the past weekend, six teams of Stanford students met up with representatives from Coca-Cola, Ford, and Pacific Gas & Electric to present their analyses on a set of energy-related challenges that they had tackled over the course of the previous week. The challenge was the First SEC Case Competition. Organized by the Stanford Energy Club and Clean Tech Open, the competition was designed to give enthusiastic students the opportunity to tackle large-scale energy challenges faced by major companies. On Saturday, October 15th, students were split into teams of 3 and divided into two teams per company, where they received a specific challenge from the sponsors and given a week to come up with a solution. The following Saturday, they competed head to head as judged by the company representatives.
Coca-Cola asked how they might increase the energy efficiency of refrigerators, focusing on either residential or commercial. One team tackled both challenges, suggesting that smart glass on fridge doors could reduce the need to open residential fridges and a system of reusable insulated containers, which would reduce cooling costs onsite at retailers in favor of a more efficient central system. The opposing team, however, was able to take the victory by taking a more focused and analytical approach and analyzing a two compartment commercial refrigerator that would reduce energy costs by an expected 37%. The larger top compartment would be kept at a higher temperature around 15°C while the lower compartment, which would cool a smaller number of drinks to the desired 5°C.
Ford asked students how it could mitigate its energy impact while transitioning into a mobility company. One team suggested they focus on developing a fleet of electric vehicles, which could also act as mobile storage systems for the electric grid. The other team’s solution was development of a fuel cell fleet, which would allow faster refueling and longer ranges, and would have hydrogen generation and storage hubs that could also help stabilize the electric market by converting grid electricity to and from hydrogen at different times. Though both teams made compelling arguments, the electric vehicle team won out due to their greater focus on Ford’s customers, specifically, how autonomous fleets could improve the lives of single mothers.
PG&E had its teams design an easy-to-use bundle of connected products that would optimize energy use in the home. Both teams designed a centralized system of products including lighting, heating and cooling, and appliances that could be controlled by an AI system. The winning team triumphed by showing that the clearest value proposition for consumers revolved around convenience rather than energy, but that a system meeting these requirements could also significantly improve energy use and provide smoother residential electric demand.
Beyond winning and losing, the competition was a valuable experience for the students, who gained a better understanding of the real energy challenges that different industries face and had the opportunity to join the conversation. The corporate partners were also satisfied with the results of the event and excited to bring them back to their teams and continue to communicate with the student partners. With this resounding success, the SEC is looking forward to continuing the SEC Case Competition on a regular basis.
Written by Laith Maswadeh