University of Michigan senior Morgan Provax has been researching energy policies at different universities.  

Soon, she’ll visit and evaluate three Ann Arbor campus buildings — George G. Brown Laboratories, the Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Building and the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Biomedical Engineering Building — with the hope of making them greener.

It’s all part of the DTE Energy E-Challenge Competition for Colleges and Universities, a contest that encourages students to develop innovative plans to help their schools reduce energy waste. U-M’s Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses are among seven colleges and universities in Michigan participating.

Up for grabs is $50,000 in scholarship money — and the chance to make a difference.  

UM-Dearborn College of Engineering and Computer Science graduate students Christine Li (left) and Viraj Tulaskar inspect a skylight in the Administration Building as part of the DTE Energy E-Challenge Competition.
UM-Dearborn College of Engineering and Computer Science graduate students Christine Li (left) and Viraj Tulaskar inspect a skylight in the Administration Building as part of the DTE Energy E-Challenge Competition. (Photo by Lou Blouin, UM-Dearborn)

“I’m graduating really soon. It’s a good way to leave a positive impact on the university,” said Provax, a mechanical engineering major from Chicago.

The E-Challenge, sponsored by DTE Energy and the Engineering Society of Detroit, kicked off in January.  

Each university received a $20,000 startup grant to support the work of teams that will collect energy-use data from buildings and identify potential ways to save energy. The teams have access to free help from DTE Energy certified energy managers and a toolkit they can use to track and benchmark data.

Each team will create and submit a long-term energy-management plan. The team with the best plan will win $50,000 in scholarship money to split among its members.  

Nichole Becker, a principal energy manager for DTE Energy, said the challenge has a twofold purpose — to improve energy efficiency and get students thinking about new career paths.

“It raises the profile of careers in energy engineering,” she said.

At UM-Dearborn, 19 graduate students and about two dozen faculty and staff members are participating in the challenge.

Clipboards in hand, they plan to visit all 24 major campus buildings, going from room to room to record detailed observations about how the buildings consume — and maybe overconsume — energy.

“We really are looking at everything — and more importantly, looking to everyone to help in this,” said Carol Glick, UM-Dearborn’s executive director for facilities operations.

“I think what’s really special about this project is that we have faculty who work on these issues; we have facilities people working on energy efficiency in their day-to-day jobs; and we have students who are studying this stuff in their classrooms. But we don’t always talk to each other and connect our efforts.

“So one of the potential long-ranging impacts I see is that we develop a diverse ‘SWAT team’ of people who are tackling these challenges on an ongoing basis. And the entire campus is going to see the benefit.”

In Ann Arbor, seven students are participating in the DTE Energy E-Challenge Competition for Colleges and Universities.
In Ann Arbor, seven students are participating in the DTE Energy E-Challenge Competition for Colleges and Universities. They are, from left, Gabriel Petrone, senior, mechanical engineering; Morgan Provax, senior, mechanical engineering; Jake North, junior, environmental engineering; Robbie Lewis, senior, mechanical engineering; Shagun Parekh, sophomore, mechanical engineering; Jack Teener, senior, mechanical engineering; and Johnny Huang, sophomore, industrial and operations engineering. (Photo by Tamika Banks, DTE Energy)

In Ann Arbor, the $20,000 in grant money was used to fund internships for Provax and six other students in the Office of Campus Sustainability who are part of the challenge. Four staff members are also participating.

In the three Ann Arbor buildings, students will look at everything from lighting to heating and cooling systems.

“There’s a lot of data to consume and process and analyze,” said Kevin Morgan, manager of energy management within the Office of Campus Sustainability.

Unlike some other schools, Morgan said the Ann Arbor campus has long had a robust focus on sustainability and energy management. Those efforts were buoyed in 2018 when President Mark Schlissel announced he was pursuing a path for the university to achieve carbon neutrality.

But Morgan said this is the first time the Office of Campus Sustainability has engaged students in energy-saving efforts with this level of intensity. Their findings could have a real impact on processes and procedures at the university, he said.

“We always want to learn from a fresh perspective,” Morgan said. “I’m excited to see what they come up with.”

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