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11.18.10 - Power to the People

Jack Brouwer explains the Irvine Smart Grid Demonstration Project



An overflow crowd attended this month’s Igniting Technology event in the Calit2 Building, discovering the latest in energy efficiency research, policy, building codes, incentives and feedback mechanisms. The semiannual event is sponsored by intellectual property law firm and Calit2 partner Knobbe, Martens, Olson and Bear.

Calit2 Irvine Division Director G.P. Li kicked off the Nov. 10 program by announcing the upcoming development of a statewide plug-load research center in the Calit2 Building, supported by the California Energy Commission.

Program moderator Michael Guiliana, KMOB partner, introduced the evening’s speakers: Jack Brouwer, associate director of UC Irvine’s Advanced Power and Energy Program, and its National Fuel Cell Research Center; Jim Meacham, director at local consulting firm CTG Energetics, Inc.; Wendell Brase, UCI’s vice chancellor for administrative and business services, and chair of the University of California’s Climate Solutions Steering Group; Staffan Akerstrom, co-founder of EPS Corp.; Lee Cooper, manager of emerging technologies at Pacific Gas and Electric; and David Kirkby, UCI professor and principal investigator of the uci@home project.

Brouwer is a lead researcher on the Irvine Smart Grid Demonstration Project, a partnership among UCI, Southern California Edison and a host of corporate partners. The venture involves the installation and monitoring of a smart grid in UCI’s University Hills neighborhood. Forty homes are participating; 30 are being outfitted with varying degrees of smart technology, while 10 will serve as control homes. The project includes photovoltaic systems, battery storage, electric vehicles and zero-net energy components.

From left: Meacham, Brase, Akerstrom, Cooper and Kirkby; right: A question from the audience.

The smart grid demonstration seeks to assess the capabilities of a smart grid, said Brouwer, and includes research on end-to-end cyber security, interoperability and situational awareness, as well as design simulation and modeling of circuits. “There are all sorts of different technologies that we can investigate to see how they impact the performance,” he stated.
Meacham gave the audience an overview of the LEED system for rating the sustainability of buildings. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) strives to encourage “the greenest, most high-performing buildings in the world.” The system factors in criteria related to energy and water usage, the ecology of the site itself, the indoor environment and building materials, as well as building plug loads.

LEED is driving the market in many ways, Meacham said. “It is no longer a fad; it really is the new normal,” in design and operations. The long-term vision of the U.S. Green Building Council is to create a purely regenerative system, “and that’s a whole new paradigm of thinking,” he said. “There are very specific steps being put in place. There is nothing but room for innovation in the process.”

Brase stated UCI’s commitment to LEED and other forms of increased sustainability, telling the audience that in October, UCI became the U.S. campus with the most LEED Gold-rated buildings. He now has his sights set on improving laboratory performance, saying that labs account for 2/3 of the total energy consumed on a typical research university campus. “That means the labs are using five times as much energy per square foot” as other buildings. “Labs use so much energy because they’re on all the time, 24/365,” he said. “We don’t turn them down at night.”

A full house enjoys the presentation.

The recently opened Sue and Bill Gross Hall, home to UCI’s stem cell research facility, is about as smart as a lab gets,” saving more than 50 percent of energy usage “across the board.”  His goal is to bring all campus labs up to the same standards. “Every one of these technologies is easily retrofittable into any building that has direct digital control and variable air volume,” he said.

Akerstrom, whose company provides energy intelligence and energy solutions to companies, primarily those in the industrial manufacturing market, said traditional energy efficiency measures don’t necessarily work in these environments. EPS has developed real-time energy and carbon management solutions that capture data from the facilities and develop information packages that indicate their energy performance. “It’s about getting the right information at the right time in the right context,” he said.

By utilizing software, a variety of dashboards, analytics and other expertise, EPS provides advice to their clients on how to improve energy efficiency. “For us, efficiency is the quickest path to sustainability,” he said. “[It’s] the quickest way to greenhouse gas and energy reduction.”

Cooper discussed PG&E’s energy-efficiency programs for consumers and businesses. The utility is working closely with Southern California Edison, San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Gas Co. on a three-year, $3 billion program administered by the California Public Utilities Commission. “The question is: how do we take that money and incentivize energy efficiency?” he asked. The program’s ultimate goal: to save enough energy to defer construction of additional power plants.

Cooper said plug loads are playing an increasingly important role in total statewide energy usage, a fact incentive programs must recognize. The current plan focuses on retailers, major manufacturers and distributors instead of customers, because there is more bang for the buck there. “If you’re going to [spend] $1500 on a TV, is a $10 or $20 rebate going to sway you a whole lot?” he asked. By contrast, retail margins are rather small so using that money as an incentive on the commercial side is more productive. “You can show the stocking patterns [in the stores] change,” he said. “That’s how we really influence the market and ultimately impact what gets into homes and offices.”

Future plans include rebates for software as well. “That’s something we’re excited about,” he concluded.

Kirkby’s uci@home research project addresses residential plug-load appliances, which are projected, by 2035, to reach almost 40 percent of the total home energy usage. The project was informed by the realization, he said, that ultimately people – not appliances – use energy, and those people are driven by convenience and performance rather than energy efficiency.

uci@home, a collaboration between UCI’s physical and social science departments, utilizes a sensor-driven, smart-plug feedback system that was installed in six homes last summer. The system, with seven plugs per home, incorporates audio and visual feedback as well as an online repository of the homes’ energy usage. The project serves as a testbed for evaluation of different designs, ideas, hardware and software. It is also a platform for addressing two research questions, Kirby said. “Are there specific opportunities that will allow people to use less energy with a minimal impact on performance and convenience, and what are the potential savings?

“Consumers want simple actionable prompts,” Kirkby said. “They don’t want to have to wade through engineering data to figure out how to save energy. I believe new research on how people use their plugs and what motivates them to change their habits is really the key to increasing consumer engagement with these systems.”

The evening included an audience question-and-answer session, a buffet dinner/ networking session and exhibitor displays.

-- Anna Lynn Spitzer

Presentations                               
Brouwer -- powerpoint, audio                                          
Meacham -- powerpoint, audio
Brase -- powerpoint, audio
Akerstrom -- powerpoint, audio
Cooper -- powerpoint, audio
Kirkby -- powerpoint, audio