Competition Seeks to Cultivate Future Generation of Energy Leaders

AES Announces University of Colorado Boulder Graduate Students as 2023 Energy Innovation Challenge Winners

ARLINGTON, Va., October 30, 2023 – The AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) today named the winners of its 2023 Energy Innovation Challenge. Graduate students from the University of Colorado Boulder – Thomas Hill, Tatiana Huet de Bacellar, Patrick Fegan, Emily Cummins and Andrew Bayliss – won the top prize for their proposal to revitalize the existing steam turbine infrastructure at the Zuni Power Plant in Denver. 

AES’ Energy Innovation Challenge, now in its third year, is a prize-based competition that challenges interdisciplinary teams of graduate students to develop a novel solution to a pressing, difficult challenge facing the energy industry. While the proposals are hypothetical in nature and do not use or rely on AES data, the competition encourages participants to think strategically and explore potentially feasible solutions to problems in their own communities. The program is designed to give students valuable real-world experience and inspire them to pursue careers in low carbon energy upon graduation. 

Since its launch in 2021 by members of AES’ Energy4Talent program, the competition has grown and been replicated in several global AES markets including Chile and Panama. AES’ Energy4Talent is a two-year rotational program for recent college graduates that fosters top-tier talent and trains the next generation to build careers in the clean energy industry. 

“The Energy Innovation Challenge offers graduate students an opportunity to explore new solutions to advance the energy transition, while gaining the skills and insights needed to succeed and make a real difference in the industry,” said Bernerd Da Santos, AES Executive Vice President and President of Global Renewables. “At AES, we believe it’s critical to find and attract talent that will help us deliver greener, smarter energy solutions. The team from the University of Colorado Boulder demonstrated a true passion for accelerating a renewable future with their innovative proposal.”

The winning team, named the “Green Grad Buffs”, proposed a solution to repurpose old turbine infrastructure at the Denver Zuni Plant by pairing the system with innovative seasonal thermal energy storage and a traditional lithium-ion battery array. The students used clean energy technologies in their project to replace natural gas use for peaker-plant generation to enhance grid flexibility and resilience. Their solution also included plans for a local energy museum and workforce training program. 

 “In my experience, there are not many chances to interact with companies like AES in the way that this competition fostered, and there are fewer that enable students to think about real-world problems and solutions in this manner,” said Patrick Fegan of the Green Grad Buffs. Team member Andrew Bayliss added, “The competition was a great way to learn more about the industry through coffee chats and other networking opportunities.” 

The Green Grad Buffs won a prize of $10,000 in addition to a $1,000 donation to the Sun Valley Kitchen & Community Center, a charity of their choice.  

“AES is committed to cultivating new talent and encouraging these future leaders to think creatively about new clean energy solutions, technologies and approaches,” said Tish Mendoza, AES Executive Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer. “To maintain authenticity and the unique bottom-up nature of the program, the Energy Innovation Challenge is managed by our own Energy4Talent trainees. This approach allows early career professionals who have recently received training and mentorship through the Energy4Talent program to provide helpful insights and learnings from their own experience so students can excel both in the competition and in the workforce after graduation.” 

Second place in this year’s competition went to the “Ene-archy” team from Duke University. Graduate students Petya Miteva, Amelia Atencio, Sanchit Patra and Louis Linden proposed the “Gullah/Geechee Offshore Wind Corridor,” a multi-use offshore wind site with a protected oyster reef designed to stimulate the local coastal economy and prevent coastal erosion while providing low-cost renewable energy to the local community in North Carolina. Their project earned the team a prize of $5,000 and a $1,000 donation to their selected charity of GiveDirectly, Inc. Other finalists included Chi-Squared-Bar from the University of Texas at Austin, Impact MBA from Colorado State University, and Solar Coaster from the University of Cincinnati. 

About AES
The AES Corporation (NYSE: AES) is a Fortune 500 global energy company accelerating the future of energy.  Together with our many stakeholders, we’re improving lives by delivering the greener, smarter energy solutions the world needs.  Our diverse workforce is committed to continuous innovation and operational excellence, while partnering with our customers on their strategic energy transitions and continuing to meet their energy needs today.  For more information, visit

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