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4 Questions for a Better Buildings Case Competition Student Participant: Harry Bergmann

July 2, 2014 - 10:37am


Harry Bergmann (first from right) helped the Xenergy team from the University of California at Santa Barbara win two Better Buildings Case Competition awards. Harry is now working as a project manager for The Energy Coalition.

Harry Bergmann (first from right) helped the Xenergy team from the University of California at Santa Barbara win two Better Buildings Case Competition awards. Harry is now working as a project manager for The Energy Coalition.

The Better Buildings Case Competition supports the broader Better Buildings Initiative goal to reduce energy consumption in commercial, multifamily, public, and industrial buildings across the U.S. by at least 20% in the next ten years. The competition encourages university students to develop new, innovative energy-efficient approaches to help American families and businesses save energy and money. Since 2012, students have presented over 100 solutions to more than 60 businesses, organizations, agencies and governments.

The Better Buildings Case Competition also engages business leaders and students, serving as an effective networking platform and a recruiting tool between and amongst participants.In part two of this series, we interview Harry Bergmann about his experience participating in the competition and his new role at the Energy Coalition. Bergmann, a recent graduate of Bren School of Environmental Science & Management helped lead his Xenergy team from the University of California at Santa Barbara, to two awards in the competition. He was hired by the Energy Coalition shortly after it concluded.

Question 1: Describe your new role with The Energy Coalition.

Harry Bergmann: I will be a Project Manager with The Energy Coalition (TEC) working to implement the Southern California Regional Energy Network (“The Energy Network”). As a Project Manager, I will be working with local public agencies to plan, finance, and implement energy efficiency projects. To start, I will be focusing on street lighting retrofits and some lighting and mechanical retrofits in city government facilities enrolled in The Energy Network.

Q2:  How did participating in the competition prepare you for your career in the energy industry?

HB: The Better Buildings Case Competition gave a direction and focus to research that went beyond my academic curriculum and allowed our team to generate innovative, creative, disruptive solutions to very relevant problems. The energy industry is at a point where significant change is both necessary and urgent and the competition placed our team on that bleeding edge. The knowledge gained from the research and iterative problem solving demanded by the competition proved to be valuable as I looked for jobs in an industry pressured to reinvent itself. In addition, the preparation for the competition further developed my team work, project management, leadership, and organizational skills.

Q3:  What did the competition provide you that you would not have otherwise attained in terms of education and networking?

HB: I was introduced to a TEC employee at the reception after the 2014 Case Competition, so clearly networking is a big part of what the competition can provide to participants. I also spent last summer as an EDF Climate Corps fellow and a significant number of other fellows and Climate Corps program managers were involved in this year’s competition as participants and speakers, providing a nice context in which we were able to follow up and continue shaping those relationships across schools and industries. The cases themselves also provided a unique framework for problem solving that I mentioned before – being free from a traditional rubric when evaluating solutions allowed us to really push the boundaries of what may work in a given case, even as just a thought experiment.  The competition also gave me the opportunity to see other presentation styles and innovations which in turn allowed me to expand my knowledge, skill set, and ideas.

Q4: What advice would you give to students participating in future competitions?

HB: Be creative! This competition is a completely risk-free environment, there are no grades or repercussions for solutions that may not work or precisely address the problem at hand. The two years in which I have been a competition participant, both of the teams worried about whether our solution would address the question or merely be considered a pipe dream. In each case, we brought home recognition for the Most Innovative Proposal. The competition exists because a lot of smart, experienced people have been putting considerable time into trying to solve the core questions contained within each case and have not yet arrived at a flawless solution. To fundamentally change the industry and the way that we think about energy, you need to be creative and really push the boundaries of what could work – the Better Buildings Case Competition is the perfect environment for such an endeavor.