Finding ways to wrap your head around climate issues can be a challenge faced by researchers, non-profit organizations, policy makers, and corporations alike.

Dave Harwood of DTE Energy awards the winning team.

Seven teams of students tried to distill some of these complexities by competing in the Energy + Contest through U-M’s Energy Institute.  The program garnered sponsorship interest from companies and organizations, thanks to generous contributions by DTE Energy, Consumers Energy, and the Anthropocene Institute.

Dave Harwood, Director of Renewable Energy at DTE Energy and one of the contest judges said, “As Michigan’s largest producer of renewable energy, DTE Energy was proud to support and participate in the University of Michigan’s Emissions Plus student competition. We were extremely im

Jordan Walker of Consumers Energy helped judge the competition.

pressed with the level of creativity and effort evident in the student projects.  Events like this not only help students appreciate the volume of carbon emissions related to University operations, but also raise awareness of the importance of energy efficiency and renewable energy use going forward.”

Corporate support for the event continued: “Consumers Energy is a strong supporter of STEM education in Michigan because it points students toward careers that will power our state’s future,” said Carolyn Bloodworth, Consumers Energy’s director of corporate giving. “We were pleased to sponsor the Energy+ competition to demonstrate that commitment and our interest in energy efficiency and sustainability efforts.”

In the contest, teams were tasked to create a tangible visualization of the amount of carbon emissions created by the University of Michigan in the year 2016 (what equates to roughly 30% of Ann Arbor’s total emissions footprint). The goal of the challenge was to demonstrate the interconnectedness of energy with the built environment, the climate, and the centrality of energy in society.

One of the teams presents their model of Michigan Stadium to the judges.

“Our main goal was to find a way to visualize the work that still needs to be done. The CO2 that doesn’t get absorbed out of the atmosphere has a lifetime of thousands of years,” shared Nathaniel Sunderlin, a first year master’s student in Chemical Engineering. Multidisciplinary students from undergraduate to doctoral levels participated in the project, from the College of Engineering, STAMPS School ofArt & Design, School of Environment and Sustainability, and the College of Literature, Science and the Arts.

For many participants, conveying this information was a really important task. Nathan Haughteling, a sophomore in Electrical Engineering, says members of his team spent 15-20 each on the project in their spare time. “Students and faculty would like some changes to be made. I know there’s a lot of great things being done.”

Not only did students create compelling visual representations of the university’s CO2 emissions, they talked broadly about the problem – and challenges – faced by emissions. They shared statistics such as:

  • If U-M were to be carbon neutral, the university would need to plant 13 campuses filled with trees.
  • In 2016, U-M could have filled the football stadium 395.6 times with CO2 – that’s every 22 hours.
  • The university has a great goal to reduce CO2 emissions by 25% by 2525, but only has reduced them by 6% so far.
  • The university uses wind, solar and gas power to help decrease CO2 emissions.

One team commented the corporate commitments to improve our environment, sharing, “DTE has an aim for 20% of their energy come from renewable sources by 2020 – there are some really positive things being done.”

The winning students were Michelle Farhat and Allie Frost, Masters students in the dual SEAS/ College of Engineering Engineering Sustainable Systems program, earning the $7,500 top prize. They developed a virtual reality experience to visually represent campus CO2 emissions of each University of Michigan building, calculated based on the electricity use of the building and the utility’s electricity generation methods.