Winner of the Junior Academy Challenge – Spring 2022: “Flexible Use of Electricity”
Published August 10, 2023
Team Members: Abhi G. (Team Lead) (India), Marianne I. (Philippines), Shreya J. (Canada), Angel I. (Philippines), Elijah U. (Nigeria)
Mentor: Muhammad Mahad Malik (Pakistan)
For this Junior Academy challenge on Flexible Use of Electricity, the five Power On team members chose to address a thorny issue: the energy deficit in the Philippines, where electricity demand is growing rapidly, and supply falls short of demand– leaving close to 30% of the population without electricity or facing significant fluctuations in electricity supply known as brownouts. Constraints on access to power are especially acute in rural areas and on the country’s numerous islands.
“The flexible electricity challenge is one of the most complex research projects I’ve ever worked on as it took quite a while for me to decipher the exact problems that needed to be tackled,” explains Elijah. “However, this pushed me to engage more in extensive readings, and actively be a part of reaching out to and interviewing numerous experts.”
After conducting a survey in nine countries, consulting their mentor and experts, and brainstorming through the Academy’s Launchpad platform, the team members narrowed down potential solutions to focus on three approaches. “Asking questions and making sure that we understood the concepts fueled me to keep on collecting more knowledge,” says Marianne. “Interviewing different experts from different fields gave us new perspectives when we dealt with this challenge. Because a problem has deep roots, it is important to look at it from different angles.”
First, based on the results of their survey, the students determined it was important to raise public awareness of electricity issues such as peaks/non-peaks, flexible use of electricity, and supply, storage and distribution. They’ve addressed this need for awareness with an entertaining game designed to educate consumers. “I had to meet experts from around the globe to hear their perspectives on flexible electricity,” explains Angel. “It made me realize that people may have different geographies and have various living standards, but what we have in common is that we face similar problems, such as balancing the demand and supply of electricity.”
The second pillar of the students’ project is Demaflex, an app to forecast demand and improve the response. The app would analyze data to predict times of high demand and encourage consumers to reduce the pressure on the power grid by scheduling their use of various appliances (such as dishwashers or washing machines) during off-peak periods. By sending recommendations to power users, the app would promote flexible use of electricity.
Finally, the team focused on developing Electrade, an app-based, decentralized, user-friendly energy trading platform that would allow people to buy energy and sell excess electricity back to the grid. The enterprising students will be working with the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) and the Philippine Council for Industry, Energy, and Emerging Technology Research and Development (PCIEERD), which have created a partnership program to grant startup funding towards commercializing their solutions.
Seeing their project take shape has given the team members a great sense of achievement. “Electricity, in particular, always seemed like an intimidating challenge to tackle, but now, I’ve learned so much,” says Shreya. “I’m proud of the solution that we created and the work we’ve done to create, test, innovate, and communicate our project to the world.”
Participating in the Junior Academy challenge has been an intense learning experience and the students are delighted that their hard work has paid off– winning the challenge is merely the icing on the cake. “The Flexible Electricity Challenge, for me personally, was quite an eye-opener. From all the research done by everyone on the team, I’ve learned quite a few things about the grid, electricity supply, and the demand response system,” says Team Lead Abhi. “The late nights and the sheer amount of work each and every one put in on our project is something I'll always remember and be grateful for.”