NECA Chapter Wins for Top Video at Green Energy Challenge

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By Casey Moffitt

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Illinois Institute of Technology’s National Electrical Contractors Association (NECA) chapter received high marks for its energy audit of Chicago's Near South Health Center in NECA’s 2020 national Green Energy Challenge.

The research team took first place in the video competition and fourth place for its audit presentation in October. About half of NECA’s 35 chapters in the United States and Canada participated in the Green Energy Challenge, which challenges teams to conduct a complex energy audit of a community building, to develop a proposal, and to produce a video.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for our chapter students to gain presentation experience at the national level and for our university to gain national recognition,” says Dan Tomal, adjunct professor of industrial technology and management, who advised the team.

The Near South Health Center, a medical group practice located in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, was chosen as it fit the criteria for the challenge as a community service center. Michael Hickey (B.S./M.S. INTM 4th Year), a NECA Illinois Tech chapter student member and a Cook County employee, saw its potential.

“I thought the clinic, being a smaller simple space that hadn’t been renovated except for telecommunications in about 30 years would be a good fit,” Hickey says. “It also serves some of the most vulnerable residents in Cook County–low income and senior citizens.”

The team was required to evaluate the building’s HVAC system, lighting, windows, appliances, solar installations, and mechanicals. The goal was to put together a proposal that not only would make the building more energy efficient and save on energy costs, but also that would result in a net-zero building, where the amount of energy used is less than or equal to the amount of renewable energy created onsite. Recommendations included replacement of the windows, water heater, and HVAC system, as well as installing rooftop solar panels.

Christina Hiotaky (ARCE 4th Year) led the written proposal for the team, and says the project proved to be valuable to her educational experience.

“It was very applicable and impactful for an architectural engineering major,” Hiotaky says. “As architectural engineers, we strive to create a built environment that is more sustainable and positively impacts the carbon emissions, and this project allowed me to be able to apply my engineering knowledge in a context that will help show people that being more sustainable is not only great for your business—as your energy costs will eventually go down—but also great for the environment.”

The energy audit also served as an Interprofessional Projects (IPRO) Program assignment, in which teams made up of undergraduate students from all academic majors work together to solve a real-world problem.

“I was able to interact with lots of people from different majors and to be able to truly collaborate on a project that could have a major impact on the community,” Hiotaky says. “It was a commonality that we all shared deeply.”

Illinois Tech students presenting the proposal included Alyssa Hamert, Jeff Belshee (ARCE 3rd Year), John Biemat, RJ Schroeders, and Jelena Mojsilovic. Massara Haseeb was the team leader for producing the video. Kevin Dillon and Chloe Rubinowicz were team leaders of the IPRO. Samantha Blanchard (ME 3rd Year) is the NECA-IIT Chapter president.

The Illinois Tech team edged out finalist teams from Iowa State University and Penn State University to win the video competition. Other finalists in the presentation competition included Iowa State, University of Toronto, and Ball State University.

Photo: Illinois Tech students who took part in the NECA Green Energy Challenge (provided)