Energy Mentors Shaping Next Generation of Energy Leaders

Power the Community competition gives students a global platform to showcase skills and creativity in designing a new energy infrastructure

June 18, 2024

If you had the chance to design the energy infrastructure for a town from the ground up, what would it look like? Would you lean into renewable energy, with solar and wind power? Would you try to leverage existing electrical grids or would you plan for a networked series of batteries to store extra power for when it’s needed?

Those questions – and plenty of others – are what confront students taking part in the Power the Community competition.

Created by the nonprofit Energy Mentors, the competition intends to draw engineering students into the energy industry by inviting them to innovate designs to provide affordable, reliable and sustainable energy to a community.



The contest, open to undergraduate and graduate students from around the world, offers students an unusual amount of freedom in developing their plans. Their hypothetical community can be located anywhere in the world, allowing students to take advantage of local resources. A planned community located in the Middle East, for example, might rely heavily on solar power, while other teams might propose a site in the midwestern U.S. to take advantage of abundant wind power.

Entries will be judged by a panel of experts, with the winning team receiving the Energy Mentors “Energy Innovators Award” and $10,000. Other prizes will be awarded based on the judges’ recommendations.

A founding sponsor of both Energy Mentors and the Power the Community competition, AspenTech sees value in encouraging students to take on the most intractable problems of the energy transition, said AspenTech Sustainability Business Unit General Manager Vikas Dhole, who is serving as one of the competition’s judges.

“The solutions students come up with for this competition can serve as inspiration to help guide the energy industry toward future innovations,” Dhole said. “It’s particularly exciting to see that students are eager to take on these types of challenges – the energy and pioneering mindset they bring to the table will be critical as the world navigates the energy transition. I am eager to see what solutions they have developed.

For Don Victory, creating Energy Mentors and the competition was the natural next step of his more than 40-year career in the energy industry.

After retiring from his role as Upstream Chief Process Engineer at ExxonMobil, Victory knew he wanted to maintain a connection to the industry, and in particular to share the knowledge he’d acquired over decades with the next generation of engineers.

“As I was thinking about retirement, I asked myself if there was a way I could…share my knowledge with the rising generation,” he said. “Because young people – people under the age of 40 – are great at innovation; they have what’s called agile intelligence. But people over 40 have crystallized intelligence; they have experience and pattern recognition. So I’m able to leverage what I learned along the way…I’m just not doing it within a corporation.”

The idea for the competition first began to take shape in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, when Victory toured neighborhoods that had been hard-hit by the storm.

“I happened to tour one neighborhood that was newly built…and I observed that in that new master plan community, the energy system was built using the same basic design that would have been used 60 or 70 years ago,” Victory said. “There was a natural gas line coming in, and a high-voltage power line for electricity, (but) you could also see that people were installing solar panels on their roofs, or installing natural gas generators in their backyards to cover power outages.

“I started to think about first-principles engineering, and if you got a clean sheet of paper and you wanted energy resilience, would you design things this way?” he continued. “The idea for the competition is that young students are the innovators. We will give them access to various knowledge bases, but we want them to come up with ideas and explore the realm of possibility, because if they can leverage that existing knowledge with innovative ideas, we’ll get a better answer.”

The hope is that the competition also serves as inspiration to the students, encouraging them to explore careers in the energy industry, where they can help address a wide range of challenges in the coming years.

“Giving young people exposure and allowing them to see other people like them participating and contributing, I hope, will be a real catalyst to bringing people into the STEM and technical fields,” he said. “We need a lot of engineers and technical workers to increase energy prosperity around the world.

“There’s a big opportunity space internationally for energy engineers,” he continued. “They won’t be doing exactly the same thing my generation did, but they can leverage the lessons we can offer them on how to do things in order to reduce emissions, increase sustainability and make sure energy supplies are available to all the people in the world.”

Power The Community International Design Competition Awards Show- 22 June 2024 [] at 9:00am EST/ 8:00am CST/ 6:30pm IST!

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