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It’s Electric

08/15/2022

The objective of this challenge is to increase the electrification of U.S. buildings (residential, commercial, new, or existing). Student team solutions should lead to reductions in energy use and carbon emissions through electrification solutions, and students should emphasize reducing inequalities in obtaining technologies for identified stakeholder groups.

Background

The United States has a long-term goal to decarbonize the electric grid1. This will require several market transformations across multiple sectors, including renewable power generation and storage options, increased energy efficiency adoption and timely use of energy across homes and places of work, and a shift away from burning fossil fuels for all appliances and equipment. Buildings will play an integral role in achieving decarbonization objectives, and eliminating the burning of fossil fuels, also known as electrification, will be a crucial step.

Source: Photo by Dennis Schroeder, NREL

Buildings directly burn fossil fuels, such as natural gas and propane, often for space heating and water heating, as well as various appliances (e.g., cooking, clothes drying). In 2021, nearly 48% of energy consumed by the combined residential and commercial building sectors came from directly burning fossil fuels 2. This represents almost one-fifth of all energy consumed by the United States each year 3. In 2020, the residential and commercial sectors were the main consumers of energy, accounting for 40% (i.e., 22% and 18%, respectively) of the total U.S. energy consumption 4. Space heating accounted for 43% of total energy in residential buildings in 2015, where 69% of energy for the space heating was provided by the natural gas 5. Only 14% of energy for space heating is provided by electricity 5.

Natural gas is the primary space heating and water heating fuel source for nearly half of all commercial buildings and is the main commercial fuel source in the Northeast, Midwest, and West 6. In addition to natural gas, nearly 10% of commercial buildings report using propane and fuel oils for space heating, leaving approximately 30% currently utilizing electricity as the primary source for space heating 3.

Such a substantial transformation across the residential and commercial building sectors will require innovative solutions, as well as widespread adoption of both new and existing technologies. An example technology requiring both innovation and increased adoption is heat pumps. Heat pumps are an efficient and effective electrification option for both space heating and water heating. It is estimated that less than 15% of commercial buildings utilize heat pumps as heating equipment 6, and when they are in use, heat pumps are more commonly found in warmer regions of the U.S. There is an opportunity to solve market barriers that limit more widespread adoption of heat pumps in warmer climates, but also to advance the technology to improve operation and ultimately market transformation in colder climates.

Research has also documented large upfront costs associated with the installation of heat pumps compared to traditional central air conditioning and furnace systems. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) reported that based on 2018 prices, the installation cost of a residential air-source heat pump ranged between 50% and 200% more than conventional central air conditioning systems with a natural gas furnace for heating 7. This significant increase in costs may limit adoption potential, especially in lower socioeconomic communities.

In addition to high-performance electric technologies that replace fuel-fired equipment, other solutions such as those addressing electrical infrastructure will be required. Consider that almost half of the U.S. housing stock was built before 1970 8. Unless a home has had a substantial electrical infrastructure upgrade, most of these homes have electrical breaker panels with 100-amp service or less 9. As appliances and equipment shift away from fossil fuels such as natural gas or propane, new electrical infrastructure will be needed in order to support electrification technologies—at an average cost of $1,300–$2,500 per home to upgrade to 200-amp service 10, not to mention additional constraints and implications from charging electric vehicles.

The Challenge

This topic challenges student teams to develop an innovative solution that will address electrification in buildings. Students can focus on any aspect related to this transition away from directly burning fossil fuels on-site. Solutions can be considered at the individual building and multibuilding scale. Student teams should first develop a focused problem statement for a specific stakeholder group and then develop a technical solution or process to solve the chosen problem.

Suggestions for student teams include (but are not limited to) the following:

  • Develop new equipment or technologies to replace fuel-fired equipment or appliances with high-performance electric options.
  • Improve existing electrification equipment or technologies to significantly increase capabilities.
  • Develop technologies or processes for right-sizing heat pumps, including technologies or processes that combine right-sizing of heat pumps with other envelope upgrade packages.
  • Develop technologies or processes to identify optimal combinations of heat pump equipment and building envelope system upgrades.
  • Develop new equipment, technologies, or processes to address electrical infrastructure for homes and commercial spaces to allow electrification of building loads.
  • Develop solutions that include advanced controls with specific intent to optimize existing electrical infrastructure to accommodate new electrical loads.

Student submissions must:

  • Describe the scope and context of the chosen problem.
  • Identify affected stakeholders, making sure to consider socioeconomically vulnerable and historically excluded, underserved, and frontline communities (communities at the “front line” of pollution and climate change 11).
  • Develop a technical solution to the chosen problem for the targeted stakeholder group. The solution may also include policy solutions, supply chain and manufacturing processes, economic solutions, or other aspects critical to identified stakeholder barriers, but a technical solution must be proposed.
  • Discuss appropriate and expected impacts and benefits of the proposed solution. This should include a cost/benefit analysis, a market adoption analysis, and should also consider non-economic costs and benefits, such as occupant health, productivity, and well-being 12.
  • Develop a plan that describes how the team envisions bringing its idea to scale in the market, including sales or distribution channels, outreach mechanisms, stakeholder engagement, and other relevant details.

Downloadable Challenge Description

Additional Challenge Resources

Submission Template

Requirements

Competing in this challenge is open to student teams currently enrolled in U.S. universities and colleges. See the Terms and Conditions and Rules document for eligibility requirements and rules. Please note that you must begin your Building Technologies Internship Program (BTIP) application before or at the same time as you submit your idea in order to compete in the JUMP competition.

Please submit the following as a single-spaced PDF document that is a written narrative of the team’s proposed solution. PowerPoints or submissions in presentation format do not meet the requirement. 

  • Project Team Background (up to 2 pages, single-spaced)
    • Form a team of 2‒4 students. These students represent the project team and will all consult on the problem.
    • The Project Team Background should include:
      • Project name, team name, and collegiate institution(s)
      • Team mission statement
      • A short biography for each team member; this should include information such as major, level (freshman, sophomore, junior, senior, graduate), and other relevant background information such as experience with building science, future career goals, and formative experiences that shaped each individual’s contribution to the Challenge.
      • Diversity statement (minimum 1 paragraph, 5‒7 sentences): One of JUMP into STEM’s key objectives is to encourage diversity of thought and background in students entering the building science industry. There is a diversity gap in STEM, meaning that certain groups are underrepresented or have been historically excluded from STEM fields. These groups include, but are not limited to, those based on race, ethnicity, and gender—and this gap needs to be addressed. Diversity of thought can be achieved through teams consisting of students from different majors and minors. If there are barriers that affect the racial, ethnic, and/or gender breakdown of your team, please elaborate. As part of the next generation of building science thought leaders and researchers, you have a unique opportunity to influence this industry. The diversity statement is your opportunity to describe your team’s diversity of background and thought, both generally and as applicable to your chosen Challenge.
    • The Project Team Background does not count toward the 5-page Project Challenge Submission.
  • Project Challenge Submission (up to 5 pages, single-spaced)
    • Select 1 of the 3 Challenges to address.
    • Investigate the background of the Challenge and consider related stakeholders. Stakeholders are those who are affected by the problem, a part of the supply chain, or manufacturing of the technology product(s), as well as those who may have decision-making power and are able to provide solutions (technical or nontechnical solutions, such as policies). For example, you could include stakeholders who have previously experienced environmental pollution or a high energy burden. Refer to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Justice and Environmental Justice
    • Write a 1- to 2-paragraph problem statement, focusing on a specific aspect of the problem and the stakeholder groups affected by or involved in the problem. The stakeholder groups can be from a specific location, socioeconomic status, age, or demographic (e.g., people living in subsidized housing). The problem statement should clearly identify the injustices (energy or environmental) that the stakeholder group experiences. Students should consider social implications related to the identified injustices.
    • Develop and describe a novel solution that addresses or solves the specific problem from your problem statement. The solution must be technical and also include one or more of the following components, as appropriate: economic, policy, commercialization, codes and standards, and/or other.
    • Address the requirements for your selected Challenge as written in the Challenge description. Include graphs, figures, and photos. Discuss the feasibility of your solution and how it will impact your stakeholders, especially those who have experienced the injustices that you described in your problem statement.
    • Develop a technology-to-market plan. A technology-to-market plan describes how the team envisions bringing its idea from concept to installation on real buildings, or integrated into the design of real buildings, and includes a cost/benefit analysis.
      • The cost/benefit analysis does not need to be exhaustive and should include comparing the solution to current or existing technologies or practices. Benefits, such as building energy reductions and improved occupant health or productivity, should be evaluated.
      • The plan should also discuss which key stakeholder(s) should be involved to commercialize the technology and then sell and install the technologies with your target market(s).
    • Perform a market adoption barrier The team should identify at least one key market adoption barrier for implementation and specifically address how the proposed solution will overcome that barrier.
      • Barriers should align with key stakeholder(s) identified by the student team.
    • Include references. References will not count toward the 5-page maximum.
  • Appendix (optional, no page limit)
    • Teams may wish to add an appendix. This is optional and might not be reviewed by the judges.
    • The appendix has no page limit.

Evaluation Criteria

Solution (40%)

  • Solution: Please rate the solution and its ability to address the problem statement. The solution must be a technical solution and include one or more of the following components, as appropriate: economic, policy, commercialization, codes and standards, or other. How well does the proposed solution address the problem and stakeholder needs?
  • Feasibility: Please rate the solution’s overall feasibility and potential, including its viability. For example, solutions that are not technically possible or that lack a technical feasibility discussion will receive lower scores. 
  • Novelty: Please rate the originality and creativity of the solution and how significant the contribution will be to the building industry. 
  • Impact: Please rate the overall potential impact of the team’s solution. For example, can the solution be extended to communities, similar stakeholder groups, or a nationwide solution? 

Market Readiness (30%)

  • Market Characterization: Please rate the team’s understanding of the market and the stakeholder group(s) identified by the problem statement. 
  • Technology-to-Market: Please rate the team’s proposed plan to bring the solution from a paper concept to installation or integration with real buildings or building designs, and the team’s cost/benefit analysis. 
  • Overcoming Adoption Barriers: Please rate the team’s identification of and plan for overcoming adoption barriers for proposed solution. This includes how the solution will create value, both economic and other, to drive industry adoption. 

Diversity and Justice (20%)

  • Diversity Statement and Project Team Background: Please rate how well the team addresses the diversity gap in the building science industry in its diversity statement. This includes how the team brings perspectives from a variety of backgrounds, including students from groups that are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). This also includes students from many different disciplines—ensuring diversity of thought. See the diversity statement in the Challenge requirements. This also includes how well the teams connect their mission statement and biographies to their problem statement. 
  • Environmental and Energy Justice: Please rate how well the proposed solution addresses environmental and energy justice. 

Submission (10%)

  • Submission Requirements: Please rate how well the student team followed all submission requirements. See the submission paper requirements section of this rules document and at the bottom of each Challenge description. 

How to Create a Successful Submission

Citations

  1. The White House. 2021. “President Biden Signs Executive Order Catalyzing America’s Clean Energy Economy Through Federal Sustainability.” https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/12/08/fact-sheet-president-biden-signs-executive-order-catalyzing-americas-clean-energy-economy-through-federal-sustainability/.
  2. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2022. “Natural Gas.” https://www.eia.gov/naturalgas/.  
  3. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2022. “Use of Energy Explained.” https://www.eia.gov/energyexplained/use-of-energy/.  
  4. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2021. “Monthly Energy Review.” https://www.eia.gov/totalenergy/data/monthly/previous.php.
  5. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2018. “2015 Residential Energy Consumption Survey (RECS) Data.” https://www.eia.gov/consumption/residential/data/2015/c&e/pdf/ce3.1.pdf.
  6. U.S. Energy Information Administration. 2021. “2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey: Building Characteristics Results.” https://www.eia.gov/consumption/commercial/data/2018/pdf/CBECS_2018_Building_Characteristics_Flipbook.pdf.  
  7. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. 2019. “Analysis of Residential Heat Pump Potential and Economics.” https://www.nyserda.ny.gov/-/media/Project/Nyserda/Files/Publications/PPSER/NYSERDA/18-44-HeatPump.pdf.
  8. Sarkar, Mousumi. 2011. How American Homes Vary by the Year They Were Built. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau. Working Paper No. 2011-18. https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/programs-surveys/ahs/working-papers/Housing-by-Year-Built.pdf.  
  9. Thiele, Timothy. 2022. “How Electrical Service Panels Have Evolved.” The Spruce. https://www.thespruce.com/service-panels-changed-in-the-1900s-1152732.  
  10. The Home Guide. 2022. “How Much Does It Cost to Upgrade or Replace An Electrical Panel?” https://homeguide.com/costs/cost-to-replace-electrical-panel.  
  11. Initiative for Energy Justice. 2022. https://iejusa.org.   
  12. Whole Building Design Guide. 2020. “Consider Non-Quantifiable Benefits.” https://www.wbdg.org/design-objectives/cost-effective/consider-non-monetary-benefits.   

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