AVANGRID Innovation Event Seeks the Next Big Idea in Energy
ORANGE, Connecticut — Nov. 17, 2017 — What’s the next big idea in energy?
Employees from AVANGRID, Inc. (NYSE: AGR) teamed up with current students and recent graduates from MIT on Friday in an attempt to answer that question, at a competition designed to spur innovation in the energy industry.
The inaugural AVANGRID Innovation Challenge, held Friday at the Yale School of Management, New Haven, was the culmination of months of research by five teams of AVANGRID employees collaborating with Jordan Taylor Kearns, David Bierman, Max Tuttman, Julian Victor Barber, Ammar Alali, Paris Smalls, Juliana Miranda Mitkiewicz, Joshua Mueller, Guillermo Ivan de Loureiro Pereira, and Goncalo Artur Duarte Pereira — all students or graduates of MIT. In a lively competition, each team had 6 minutes to pitch a business plan to an audience of “investors,” who chose which projects to back.
Tasked with pairing emerging technologies with current energy sector challenges, the teams were competing for prizes of $2,500 for each team member — plus an opportunity to have their projects fast-tracked for implementation by AVANGRID.
“As a new kind of energy company, we’re challenging our employees and partners to innovate as we deliver a smarter energy infrastructure that provides more control, flexibility and choice for our customers,” said James P. Torgerson, AVANGRID’s chief executive officer. He said the challenge complements the company’s Forward 2020 initiative, which seeks to put the company among the best in class in its industry by the year 2020.
“Over and over we have seen examples of how emerging technology can revolutionize industries and business models that have been stagnant for decades,” Torgerson said. “When change arrives, companies show themselves either to be prepared for the future, or stuck in the past. This competition and our entire Forward 2020 initiative are steps toward making sure AVANGRID is the energy company of the future.”
The teams pitched projects addressing some of the most pressing challenges in the energy industry, including building a smarter energy grid; offering improved customer self-service solutions; integration of renewable generation technologies; developing energy storage; and leveraging big data and analytics to enhance talent management.
The “investors” — actually AVANGRID executives and leaders — each had $1,000,000 in hypothetical “funding” to allocate to projects they thought would best help move the company forward. The project with most funding was selected as the winner.
After the pitches and voting were complete, Torgerson announced the winner: ALPHA Energy with $17,500 in funding.
Team Alpha Energy led the pack in terms of solutions for integration of distributed energy resources (DER). The team pitched a solution for a type of reverse demand response known as Dynamic Electrification where industrial customers can automatically switch between conventional gas fired heating loads to electric heating based on real time energy market conditions. This solution is geared at driving improvement for fuel volatility, grid defection and more. Team members included a combination of AVANGRID employees and MIT students or recent graduates, including Drury MacKenzie: AVANGRID Smart Grids & Innovation; Kevin (Weizhong) Zhang: AVANGRID Operational Technologies; Brian McNierney: AVANGRID Regulatory; Paul Gray, AVANGRID Conservation & Load Management; Jordan Taylor Kearns; David Bierman; and Max Tuttman.
“This project is an example of the great ideas you get when you pair some of the most forward-thinking professionals in the industry with students from one of the nation’s most elite engineering universities,” Torgerson said. “By cultivating the next generation of energy leaders, AVANGRID will stay ahead of the technological curve.”
Friday’s event also served as a showcase for MIT startup ‘Flight Infinity,’ who introduced a drone-like aircraft powered by wind for offshore inspections, and Yale startup ‘Alectro,’ who presented railroad trackside Distributed Solar Microgrids for value added in power resiliency and energy savings.
AVANGRID business leaders also presented company innovation projects and proposals in cutting-edge areas including block-chain technology and transactive energy, variable generation balancing for renewable energy, machine learning and corporate security and data visualization for customer care. Innovative ideas from individual employees were also featured. As part of the Forward 2020 initiative, employees were invited to submit ideas for how the company could work better and smarter. Torgerson presented awards recognizing the most impactful and innovative of those ideas.