Clean Energy and Sustainability Innovation Program 2024

UConn and Eversource are pleased to announce that the Clean Energy Sustainability Innovation Program is being offered again in Spring 2024. 

UConn is committed to sustainability and taking the necessary steps to reduce its carbon footprint, foster environmental justice locally and globally, and prepare for climate extremes.  UConn recognizes that these challenges will take innovation and buy-in from the entire university community. To this end, UConn is partnering with Eversource Energy to support students interested in participating in the design of our energy future through a funded innovation competition that could lead to a grant-funded research program. This is a unique opportunity for teams of undergraduate and graduate students to propose their own ideas to facilitate a clean energy transition. Selected student teams will receive summer funding and be paired with mentors from the UConn faculty and Eversource Energy, to support the development of ideas on the real-world dimensions and details of the clean energy transition.

We welcome all students across the university to pitch their “grant ideas” to explore local sustainability challenges that matter to them.

Student team Austin and Pranavi celebrate after being awarded at the Clean Energy Summit 2023
2023 Challenge winners Austin Gelinas ’25 (END) and Pranavi Rebala ’25 (CLAS) celebrate with UConn’s Emmanouil Anagnostou, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor in Civil & Environmental Engineering and the Eversource Energy Endowed Chair in Environmental Engineering and Eversource’s Carissa Sedlacek, Director of Transmission Interconnections & Solutions and Vandan Divatia, Vice President of Transmission Policy & Compliance and Don Swinton, Senior Director of Development, School of Engineering

Through this summer program, students will get to workshop their ideas in both an academic and industry setting and develop the skills to apply critical thinking to their clean energy sustainability ideas.  Teams will present their projects at a university-wide Sustainable Clean Energy Summit on September 23rd, 2024, and be eligible to receive additional funding and support to extend their research and development throughout the 2024-2025 academic year.

Through this program, students will:

  • Develop their interpersonal communication and critical-thinking skills
  • Receive a summer stipend to work with UConn faculty and Eversource managers to get your team’s idea in development
  • Learn about the ins and outs of research development and problem-solving
  • Access opportunities for research and internship with Eversource
  • Contribute to the decarbonizing efforts of UConn and long-term sustainability goals of Connecticut towns and municipalities

About The Challenge

Connecticut has committed to getting all its energy from zero carbon sources by 2040 and reducing statewide emissions by 45% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. At the same time, the state has an ambitious Economic Development Plan to attract and retain a growing population, while supporting and generating inclusive economic opportunity within innovative and specialized industries. Both goals require a modernized electric power grid to integrate new renewable energy sources, meet the increasing electric demand and maintain reliability in the face of climate change.

A comprehensive solution to this challenge would address each of the following questions:

  • What transmission and distribution infrastructure upgrades, and new sources of generation, are needed to meet both the clean energy and economic development goals? What benefits can generation and power grid enhancements provide to communities?
  • How can Connecticut towns achieve their clean energy and economic development goals while ensuring that the benefits of the transition are shared equitably? How can vulnerable or disadvantaged populations in Conn. towns benefit from clean energy technologies and infrastructure development?
  • How can these goals be accomplished while also ensuring environmental and community impacts are minimized, and community benefits are prioritized? Who should influence how and when decisions are made at the local level?

Areas of research that could also support local objectives cover, but are not limited to, economic modeling and analysis, legislative and policy changes, financial evaluation of costs to customers and/or developers, rate of growth of renewables and electric load and impact to the transmission and/or distribution electrical grid, integration of new energy technologies to meet anticipated load growth, other approaches to reduce emissions, etc. Teams are encouraged to work with local governments and/or organizations as part of their project. UConn and Eversource can assist teams in connecting with local decision makers.

Selected Student Teams

The competition has attracted an impressive group of participants, with five finalist teams comprising 13 students – four undergraduates and nine graduates. These talented individuals represent six diverse departments and schools: Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, School of Computing, School of Public Policy, and Department of Mathematics. This multidisciplinary approach ensures a wide range of perspectives and expertise in tackling the complex challenges of clean energy.


Project  Student Name UConn Mentor Eversource Mentor
The Energy Justice Mapping Tool

The Energy Justice Mapping Tool is an innovative initiative designed to address energy inequities and promote sustainable energy solutions in Connecticut. By integrating data on energy access, affordability, socioeconomic factors, and renewable energy potential, this powerful tool empowers communities to visualize and analyze energy-related challenges through an interactive mapping interface. The project aims to identify areas facing energy injustice, to help prioritize targeted interventions, and facilitate the deployment of renewable energy resources. This groundbreaking tool will equip policymakers, community organizations, and industry stakeholders with data-driven insights and collaborative strategies to drive energy equity, foster renewable energy adoption, and shape a more sustainable and just energy future for all.

Umar Salman, Ph.D. Student, Electrical Engineering


Binit Gautam, Ph.D. Student, Civil Engineering


Charitarth Chugh, Undergraduate Student, Mathematics and Statistics

Zongjie Wang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Associate Director, Eversource Energy Center

Lissette Andino

Director, Equity and Environmental Justice

A Probabilistic Real-Time Controller for Restoration Control Actions During Hurricane Disasters with High Penetration of Renewable Energy

This project aims to develop a robust real-time controller capable of deploying restoration control actions to enhance resiliency in power distribution systems with high penetration of renewable energy, particularly during hurricanes. By leveraging learned-based probabilistic prediction models (PPM) using Bayesian Neural Networks, the project will predict outages, solar panel damage, and irradiance, addressing the lack of historical data through physics-based models. It will also utilize a Deep Reinforcement Learning environment to optimize the control of distributed energy resources and utility devices, enhancing grid resilience toward hurricanes. The project’s framework can be scaled to community and state levels, supporting decision-making in power dispatch and clean energy transitions, aligning with the Clean Energy and Sustainability Program’s decarbonization goals.

Soroush Vahedi, Ph.D. Candidate, Electrical Engineering


Alaa Selim, Ph.D. Candidate, Electrical Engineering


Morteza Azizi, Ph.D. Candidate, Environmental Engineering

Junbo Zhao, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Associate Director, Eversource Energy Center

Xiaodong Liu

Manager, System Planning, Transmission Reliability

Leading Connecticut Towards a Sustainable Future: Innovative Energy Demand Prediction and Resilience Planning

Our proposal aims to tackle the challenges and embrace the opportunities of the renewable energy era head-on. At the heart of our initiative lies the development of an innovative energy demand prediction model, set to transform how we envision and manage energy consumption in Connecticut. Our model incorporates cutting-edge technological trends such as solar photovoltaics (PVs) and electric vehicles (EVs) while addressing climate change impacts. Additionally, our model integrates a novel architecture aimed at surpassing traditional demand forecasting methods. We will develop optimal strategies for Connecticut to enhance resilience to demand and climate shocks, reduce system costs, and achieve greenhouse emission targets.

Jiwon Kim, Undergraduate Student, Computer Science


Buket Sahin, Ph.D. Student, Environmental Engineering

Dave Wanik, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in-Residence, Operations and Information Management

Steffen Ziegler

Lead Engineer, Distribution Planning

Integrating Green Hydrogen Production and Transport within a Natural Gas Infrastructure on the Path to Carbon Neutrality

Recent advances permit high efficiencies for the generation of hydrogen using electrolytic cells, and a particular method is expected to enable an economically viable conversion of electrical energy (from renewables like solar) to chemical energy (as stored in diatomic hydrogen), such that solar energy can be injected into the state’s energy grid with minimal losses. The project is multifaceted and includes a focus on both energy production and energy consumption; the latter involves understanding when it ceases to be financially beneficial to consume a hydrogen/natural gas fuel mixture using the current generators. Finally, the project involves simulating a novel hydrogen fuel cell generator setup with waste heat capture systems.

Ava Tobón, Undergraduate Student, Chemical Engineering


Alana Marquis, Undergraduate Student, Civil Engineering

Stoyan Bliznakov, Ph.D.

Associate Research Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Associate Director for Research Infrastructure, Center for Clean Energy Engineering

Patrick Quinn

Director, Fleet Operations

Potential Micro-Hydropower Retrofits at Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants

The research team will be looking at local wastewater treatment plants to find locations for potential hydropower generation. They will prepare estimates for costs for a micro-hydropower turbine and potential energy generation. They will also review the permitting needs and other potential impacts on the system or water. The team will propose retrofit locations for proof-of-concept installation projects to show micro-hydropower is viable as a clean energy supply.

Zhiqing Li, Ph.D. Student, Structural Engineering


Steven Matile, Master’s Student, Public Administration


Meshach Ojo, Ph.D. Student, Structural Engineering

Diego Cerrai, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Associate Director and Program Manager, Eversource Energy Center

Nick Pellon

Senior Engineer, Transmission Interconnections

Teresa Jackman

Specialist, Community Relations

2023 Finalists

Project  Student Name UConn Mentor Eversource Mentor
Enhancing Connecticut’s Green Economy: Optimal Integration of Short-Term Hybrid Solar and Hydropower; Long-Term Implementation of Nuclear Power

“Our project proposes a comprehensive two-part strategy for New England's power grids, specifically focusing on the University of Connecticut, to address their heavy reliance on natural gas combustion. The strategy implements solar PV-thermal hybrid systems and hydroelectric energy to increase power production in the short run, while facilitating a long term transition to nuclear energy. The expected outcome is to diversify UConn’s energy sources through equitable and sustainable financing models."

Austin Gelinas ’25 (ENG), chemical engineering major Matthew Stuber, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering

Carissa Sedlacek

Director of Transmission Interconnections and Solutions

Pranavi Rebala '25 (CLAS), economics and urban and community studies major
Clean Energy Innovations: Revolutionizing UConn's Power Infrastructure

“Our research proposal aims to tackle UConn campuses' clean energy sustainability issue. We plan to retire the current natural gas-based Co-Generation Facility, reduce carbon emissions, and find a comprehensive energy solution for the campus. Our proposed solutions include comparing greenhouse gas emissions between the UConn microgrid and the Eversource grid, implementing load-shaping and demand management techniques, and exploring the use of energy storage solutions.”

Malachi Denton ’24 (ENG), environmental engineering major Diego Cerrai, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in Civil and Environmental Engineering, Associate Director and Manager at Eversource Energy Center

Benjamin D'Antonio

Manager of Transmission Strategy and Economic Analysis

Malik Francis ’24 (ENG), computer engineering major
Kevon Rattigan ’25 (CLAS), chemistry major Marina Astitha, Ph.D.

Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Addressing UConn’s growing energy demand: Alternative Organic Fuel Sources and Sustainable Energy Consumption

 “The attainment of sustainability goals at UConn requires the implementation of a comprehensive strategy encompassing both social and technical interventions. In the technical domain, a plausible solution involves enhancing the Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant to accommodate versatile feedstocks, specifically biomass and solar energy, thereby substituting the conventional use of natural gas. Complementing this approach, the integration of sensor systems within UConn's buildings can effectively monitor and display real-time energy and water consumption data, fostering increased consciousness among the campus community regarding resource usage practices and the ecological ramifications associated with individual buildings.”

Hasan Nikkhah, doctoral candidate in chemical engineering Ioulia Valla, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Environmental Engineering Education

Jacob Lucas

Director of Transmission System Planning

Francesco Rouhana, doctoral candidate in civil engineering Burcu Beykal, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Dev Barochia ’25 (ENG), chemical engineering major
Exploring Solar Canopies and Alternative Solar Panels Options for UConn

“Team MEEM will be working on the research surrounding the installation of parking lot solar canopies and the potential to add solar panels to building rooftops by using thin film solar panels or solar shingles as an alternative, lighter-weight option. Implementing solar as a renewable energy source will help UConn with their carbon footprint because solar power does not produce emissions during the generation process. Examination of life-cycle assessments demonstrate that solar produces a smaller carbon output than traditional ‘cradle-to-grave’ fossil fuels, and will lower UConn's dependence on the traditional electric grid.”

Kevin Howson, energy and environment management master of science program, focusing on law; Chadwick Rittenhouse, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor in Residence, Department of Natural Resources & the Environment

Brian Rice

Director of Customer Solar Programs at Eversource Energy

Jacob Hyler, energy and environment management master of science program, focusing on sustainability
Julie Sandberg, energy and environment management master of science program, focusing on geographic information systems
Optimization of energy consumption and emissions reduction  in UConn campuses through intelligent energy management systems

“Our team proposes developing an intelligent energy management system for UConn campuses, starting with the main campus in Storrs, to fulfill the sustainability goals and address local issues. Leveraging small-scale systems like microgrids and incorporating data analytics, machine learning, and optimization approaches, we aim to reduce energy waste, promote sustainable practices, and compare the costs and emissions reduction characteristics of different projects. We will explore alternative clean energy sources such as biomass and food wastes, evaluate load-shaping strategies, and create algorithms to forecast the viability and availability of bio-renewable energy resources, ultimately aiming to develop a comprehensive roadmap for UConn's decarbonized and sustainable energy system.”

Anietie W. Williams, doctoral candidate in chemistry Zongjie Wang, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Department of Electrical & Computer Engineering

Ronald Araujo

Director - Energy Efficiency at Eversource Energy

Faith Wariri, doctoral candidate in computer science and engineering
A Real-time Behind the Meter PV Generation Forecasting System

“In 2022, solar provided 3.17% of Connecticut electricity, but the stochastic nature of solar PV generation poses significant challenges in reliable and secure grid operations. To address this problem, we will develop a Real-Time behind-the-meter Solar Power Forecasting (RTSPF) system that will use remote sensing to help with power dispatching optimization, overvoltage management, and clean energy transitions. This project has the potential to support statewide decarbonization and energy equity goals.”

Kexin Song, doctoral candidate in natural resources and the environment Junbo Zhao, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Electrical and Computer Engineering

Steffen Ziegler

Lead Engineer System Planning - Modeling and Forecasting

Sophia Zhang

Haoyi Wang, doctoral candidate in electrical engineering
Paul Zambrzycki ‘24 (ENG), electrical engineering major