U.S. Department of Energy

12/13/2018 | News release | Archived content

AABE Hackathon Explores the African-American Experience of Energy Issues

Think of hackathons as concentrated bursts of intellectual energy. Small teams work intensely together for a short time to generate solutions. The short time allowed is part of the exercise, meant to energize the brain into suggesting fresh solutions.

A Hackathon Seeking Diversity

Another well-known way to generate fresh solutions is - of course - to draw on a diverse talent pool.

The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) works to address energy-related issues that disproportionately impact people of color and to promote diversity and inclusion among energy companies.

The AABE energy hackathon at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering on November 16 and 17, was designed to attract a high proportion of people of color, including students and professionals at different stages of their career, community members and budding entrepreneurs.

The African-American Experience of Energy Issues

The problems the teams set out to solve were also remarkable in that they focused on the African American experience of energy issues. The list of hacks teams were asked to tackle included how to make solar accessible to urban communities, how to improve access to energy efficiency programs for low-income communities, and how to eclipse barriers to entry for jobs in the energy sector.

How should we ensure diverse inputs are included?

Ensuring that diverse inputs are included in the formulation of solutions means having diverse problem-solving talent at the table. But it also means listening to diverse communities and truly understanding their needs. This is - after all - the basic meaning of 'human-centered design'.

One of the teams competing in the hackathon really took that principle to heart. Their chosen topics for the following day's work was 'Improving Access to Energy Efficiency Programs for Low Income Communities' and 'How to make Solar Accessible to Urban Communities'. Before the day of the hackathon, the three NYU students actually went out to a low-income housing complex and talked to the residents about their issues with energy conservation and paying energy bills. There was - they thought - no substitute for hearing it straight from the community.