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Energy Week kicks off, bringing leaders in the energy industry to Duke

As climate change becomes an increasingly pressing issue, Duke’s Energy Week has become more prominent than ever. 

Energy Week, a series of events from Nov. 4 to Nov. 9, will expose students to the possibilities of sustainable energy. The week is built around two main events, the energy conference and the case competition. Part of Energy Week's events, the Duke University Energy Conference is an all-day event led by students that brings together leaders in the industry, government and academia. The goal is to foster connections and take a deeper look at energy markets, trends, policies and technologies. 

“One of our primary goals is to give students an opportunity to really explore what’s in energy," said Nikhita Singh, marketing co-chair for Energy Week and a Master in Environmental Management student at the Nicholas School of the Environment. "Energy’s not really something that necessarily taught in a very traditional class sense, especially not to undergrads."

The Energy Conference also includes two keynote speakers. The 2018 addresses will be given by Andy Haun, chief technical officer of Microgrids Schneider Electric, and Gerard Anderson, chairman and CEO of DTE Energy.

The week will also feature a full exhibition that people can walk through as well as side panels with presentations. 

“Our conference specifically ties into our theme," said Alex Szerszen, a Master of Business Administration student at the Fuqua School of Business and co-president of the MBA Energy Club. "So our theme is 'Energy +.' We’ll have panels on Energy + Finance, Energy + Technology, Energy + Digital, that sort of thing in order to target different students who have different interests.” 

This year, Andrew Seelaus—who created the idea for Energy Week—is a partner for the case competition. Seelaus, MBA '17 and MEM '17, works for a company called PowerGen Renewable Energy, that focuses on building off-grid solar and wind power systems in East Africa. The competition included more than 30 graduate student teams who submitted different case solutions for how to bring solar and wind energy into East Africa.

“We had four international teams submit and we had one international team who made it to the final round this year so that’s something unique," said Zach Siegel, and MBA student at Fuqua and co-president of the MBA Duke Energy Club. "Historically, we haven’t had many international teams submitting for the case competition.” 

Beyond the energy conference and case competition, there will also be several other events throughout the week put on by various energy clubs.

The Pratt MEMP Energy Club will be running a research poster presentation that invites students, faculty and professionals to present their energy-related research. For this event, prizes will be awarded to the top three posters with a separate award for the best undergraduate poster presentation.

“That's something that's really important to us—engaging the various energy clubs," said Alex Yoshizumi, an MEM student at the Nicholas School and Energy Week co-chair. "That’s another reason that energy initiative is so valuable in that respect because they create a forum for all the energy clubs to get together and be able to cross-communicate.” 

A major component of Energy Week is simply bringing together students to learn about and better understand sustainable energy and the advances being made in the industry, Singh explained. It also provides a space for people interested in energy to connect.

“Every event has two or three leaders and with them—they have their own set of two or three volunteers," Singh said. "It’s a huge student-led series. We manage to engage students at every school and in every degree program here.” 

Yoshizumi added that even though the week has begun, it's not too late to get involved.

“[If] you come into energy initiative’s office and you just say ‘How can I get involved?’ I’m almost certain we’ll have something for you to do,” he said.

The unsustainable use of fossil fuels will inform much of the discussions and events at Energy Week. The team explained that there is a huge focus on reducing carbon use, which will appear in the technology and research being presented not only from Duke professors but from local companies in the Triangle area as well. 

Dale Hill, who founded the company Proterra that produces a zero-emissions electric bus, will speak at the kickoff event. The University recently announced that two of these buses would be added to its fleet starting in 2020, according to a press release.

Energy Week is also partnering with the Duke Carbon Offset Initiative, and there will be a carbon net-zero event focusing on how Duke is going to reduce its carbon emissions. 

“That’s one of the events that we’re especially excited for just because we figure that it would have broad appeal and especially for any student at Duke, its hyper-relevant," Yoshizumi said.

Corrections: The article was updated Monday afternoon to reflect the correct number of project teams that participated in the case competition and that there was not a Proterra bus presented at the kickoff event, just that the company's founder spoke. Additionally, the Energy Technology Exhibition is part of the week, but not the conference. The Chronicle regrets these errors.

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