A note from our Director

"THE ENERGY INITIATIVE'S MISSION is to advance an accessible, affordable, reliable, and clean energy system.

We work toward our mission by strategically connecting, supporting, and amplifying energy activity across campus to advance Duke as a hotbed for energy innovation.

Not so long ago, "energy at Duke" referred to disconnected groups of energy students and researchers. These days, Duke is home to a lively interdisciplinary energy community whose members regularly trade ideas, share resources, and innovate together.

Year by year, that community expands, connections multiply, and our collective impact deepens. "Energy at Duke" is greater than the sum of its parts.

I hope that you share in our pride at these accomplishments—and our enthusiasm about what is to come."

- Brian C. Murray, Ph.D., Director, Duke University Energy Initiative


Expanding energy learning opportunities for undergraduates

Our extensive menu of learning opportunities makes it easier than ever for undergraduate students at Duke to engage with energy challenges. Here are 5 ways undergraduate students connect with energy:

1. Signing up for the new energy FOCUS cluster. Introduction of this new living-learning experience for Pratt and Trinity students has dramatically increased energy course options for freshmen. And it invites undergraduates to launch their exploration of the sector from the moment they arrive at Duke.

2. Working with professors and graduate students to address practical energy challenges. Students often describe their participation in our Bass Connections in Energy & Environment, Data+, and Story+ teams as life-changing. And our new undergraduate research assistantship program enables students to work one-on-one with some of the field's foremost experts.

3. Serving others. Whether installing solar panels in a low-income neighborhood during Solar Spring Break or consulting with Puerto Rican agencies about developing resilient energy systems via our Duke Engage summer project, energy undergraduates at Duke can use their learning to benefit others.

4. Engaging with industry experts. By taking part in Power Lunches with experts from across the sector, Power Trips, and other events organized by the Energy Initiative, undergraduates benefit from the perspectives, experiences, and advice of alumni and other energy pros.

5. Setting their own goals—and crushing them. The Energy Initiative supports a vibrant ecosystem of student energy organizations. Whether undergraduates are intrigued by electric vehicles, smart home technologies, climate issues, or all things energy, there's a student organization to suit their fancy! Each org leads its own projects, events, and trips (often with financing and advice from the Energy Initiative).

Watch the world record-breaking Duke Electric Vehicles team in action:

Building a powerhouse in energy data analytics

Duke University's Energy Data Analytics Lab continues to demonstrate how groundbreaking techniques can reveal valuable new information about our energy systems.

The lab's specialty? Using visual object identification and machine learning techniques to analyze energy access, use, and infrastructure.

In addition to racking up a substantial list of publications and datasets, lab members have leveraged partnerships to expand their work:

  • ExxonMobil is partnering with the lab to engage Duke students in two summer 2019 research projects.
  • Australian Energy Market Operator is collaborating with the lab to assess solar array location and capacity.
  • The World Resources Institute partnered with the lab as one of five finalists in the DigitalGlobe GBDX for Sustainability Challenge in spring 2018, receiving 2 months of access to a satellite imagery archive containing more than 100 petabytes of data.
  • The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation selected Duke University to host a member of the inaugural cohort of Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR) Postdoctoral Scholars in Data Curation for Energy Economics.

The lab is cultivating a pipeline of Duke graduates ready to apply emerging data techniques to energy challenges:

  • With funding from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the lab has created a first-of-its-kind program for PhD student fellows in energy data analytics. The initial cohort includes doctoral students in electrical and computer engineering, environmental policy, and computer science.
  • Lab members have played a critical role in launching a new Master of Interdisciplinary Data Science program at Duke.
  • Undergraduate and graduate students from across the university vie for opportunities to engage in the work of the lab via Bass Connections and Data+ interdisciplinary research teams.

Meanwhile, experts working in the lab are also helping shape and define the emerging field of energy data analytics. For example, the Council on Foreign Relations recently invited managing director Kyle Bradbury to speak on the field's critical challenges and opportunities, subsequently publishing his remarks as a chapter in their book Digital Decarbonization.

Curious about how data science innovations are enabling new ways to generate, transmit, and consume energy more efficiently? Sit in on a recent half-hour lecture by Kyle Bradbury:

Want to get a basic grounding in data science innovations that could boost your work in energy? Here's a 10-minute slideshow by Bradbury that points to helpful resources for upping your data sci IQ.

Advancing groundbreaking energy research

Our Energy Research Seed Fund kickstarts new multidisciplinary research. The fund helps Duke researchers achieve preliminary results they can then use to secure bigger bucks from external sources.

Since 2014, we've awarded more than $1.2M in one-year grants to 35 projects. Duke faculty have subsequently secured more than 3X as much ($3.92M) in grants for those projects (so far!) from the U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and other agencies.

"The Energy Research Seed Fund grants my colleagues and I have received have been truly pivotal to starting a whole new direction of research that has now led to external NSF funding and a startup, as well as forming many new acquaintances and collaborations across campus." - Respondent to 2017 faculty survey

In 2018 (our fifth round of funding), we awarded $336,956 to 8 multidisciplinary teams. Competition was fierce, with more than 20 teams vying for funds across three categories. Funded projects covered topics ranging from innovative energy materials to improved energy decision-making to the second-life potential of used data-center batteries. Co-funders included the Provost's Office, Rhodes Information Initiative at Duke, Pratt School of Engineering, and Trinity College of Arts & Sciences.

Of course, the Energy Research Seed Fund is just one way in which we support energy discovery at Duke. Other highlights of the year included:

  • Convening the sixth annual Energy Research Collaboration Workshop, at which faculty from across campus strategized about major initiatives to advance energy research at Duke.
  • Joining as a partner in a university-wide Energy Access Project with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, Sanford School of Public Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, and Bass Connections.
  • Connecting energy faculty with talented undergraduates through a new research assistantship program (Don't miss this story of a freshman participant who helped his faculty mentor score a $100K National Science Foundation grant!)
  • Hosting monthly meetings for doctoral students in energy materials and biweekly meetings for students in energy economics and policy to discuss research in progress.
  • Offering a Research Translation Workshop to help doctoral students in energy learn to communicate about their research with a general academic audience.
  • Awarding the $10K Clean Energy Prize (in conjunction with the Duke Startup Challenge) to GOLeafe, a student startup focused on graphene innovation. (GOLeafe founder Arsheen Allam (MBA'17) subsequently was named to Forbes's 30 Under 30 in Energy list for 2019!)

Catalyzing alumni energy engagement

Recent graduates' accomplishments are impressive—and are elevating Duke's profile as a 21st-century energy school. Yet alumni from programs across Duke have been decision-makers, influencers, and game-changers in the energy sector for decades.

Until now, Duke has lacked a unified entry point for alumni in the industry to take part in energy programming across the university. The Energy Initiative is working to change that.

For years, the Energy Initiative has invited alumni to speak at Power Lunches and countless other events. That's great for students—and offers alumni the chance to give back. And now the Initiative is rolling out a host of other efforts to engage with and bring value to Duke alumni.

Just one example: 36 Hours in Energy at Duke, a fall 2018 event. The Energy Initiative brought 21 successful energy alumni together with 21 motivated energy students for a weekend that was equal parts networking and futurecasting.

A mix of facilitated activities and unstructured time gave students and alumni opportunities to exchange ideas, ask questions, and develop deeper relationships with others in Duke's energy community.

“I enjoyed seeing the buy-in that the campus and alumni have for this issue," another alum observed. "It was uplifting to feel we can build a support network and pipeline for smart, capable people to solve a very important and complex global problem.”

Here are a few other new ways the Energy Initiative is engaging alumni (with more efforts to come!):

  • Organizing the first annual (2017) and second annual (2018) Energy Alumni Breakfast as part of Energy Week at Duke;
  • Meeting with alumni on visits to Colorado, Connecticut, New York, North Carolina, and Texas (more to come!);
  • Preparing to launch an internship program to connect Duke undergraduates with companies where Duke alumni hold leadership roles;
  • Working with alumni to develop other kinds of corporate partnerships, including sponsored research agreements and recruiting relationships;
  • and developing more on-campus activities for alumni to mentor students and learn from one another.
Watch alumni sharing their energy career advice with students at the 36 Hours in Energy event:

Cultivating a dynamic community for learning & discovery

Before the Energy Initiative was created, you could find Duke students and faculty focused on energy in isolated pockets across campus. But they had few opportunities to learn from and work alongside one another. And no single Duke unit was dedicating attention and resources to cultivating the university's energy offerings.

Much has changed. Today, thanks to the Energy Initiative, energy faculty and students can take advantage of a plethora of programs, resources, and events that encourage multidisciplinary exchange and collaboration.

The result? A lively, university-wide energy community.

  • More students are enrolled in energy courses outside their degree programs and engaged in energy learning beyond the classroom.
  • More faculty are engaged in multidisciplinary research.
  • All community members have rich opportunities throughout the year to learn from and network with one another and with industry professionals.

Just one example of the collaborative spirit of energy at Duke today: Energy Week, a student-organized series of educational events, networking opportunities, and competitions.

At the Energy Initiative's September Energy Mix, Duke University President Vincent Price met up with some of the students working hard to organize Energy Week at Duke 2018.

In November 2018, for the third year running, the Energy Initiative advised undergraduate and graduate students from across the university to plan Energy Week. Their efforts drew impressive crowds and external involvement: 46 companies and agencies sponsored, sent presenters or judges to, and/or recruited at Energy Week 2018 events.

As the energy community at Duke continues to thrive, its impact is gaining attention.

For the past couple years, undergraduate and graduate students have racked up top prizes in national and international competitions. The secret to their success? Many give credit to the "cross-training" they've gotten from an interdisciplinary energy education at Duke.

And recent alumni are making waves too. Forbes has named two Duke alumnae among its 2019 "30 Under 30 in Energy": Arsheen Allam (MBA'17) and Megan O'Connor (PhD'17) are now among seven Duke alumni in energy named to the list in the past three years. Learn more about Allam and O'Connor.

Another way to gauge the Energy Initiative's impact: More and more undergrads say that the energy community (and its reputation) is part of what drew them to Duke. Take Aashna, for example...



  1. Check out a new handout that offers prospective energy students "8 Reasons to Choose Duke University."
  2. Meet student participants in Coal & America, the Energy Initiative's summer project that took Duke undergraduates to the Appalachian coalfields to capture oral histories.
  3. Celebrate Duke's Fuqua School of Business, named to another list of top schools for energy and sustainability.
  4. Get to know Energy Initiative doctoral student fellow Justin Kirkpatrick, who won a prestigious NBER Fellowship for his work on energy storage.
  5. Take a peek at what Dr. Lori Bennear learned about Hurricane Maria's impact on Puerto Rico's electric grid during a summer 2018 visit. (In summer 2019, Dr. Bennear will lead a Duke Engage project focused on energy resilience in Puerto Rico!)
  6. Discover what cultural anthropologist Dr. Christine Folch and Duke students found out during a "listening tour" to explore how Paraguay can leverage the world's largest hydroelectric dam to drive sustainable development.
  7. Explore Duke students' case studies on energy access in the developing world.

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