Headline: Energy Efficiency Center helps birth emerging technologies
Layercake: Encourages focus on efficiency rather than simply increasing supply
By: Mike Dorsey
Aggie News Writer
There’s nothing exciting about an air conditioner or an unlit room.
Practical energy saving methods like pre-filtering air and switching off the lights don’t provide the physical image and awe that comes from a row of solar panels or a field of wind turbines – and that’s the challenge that energy efficiency faces.
“While efficiency is a far cheaper and cleaner alternative ‘source’ of energy, it often gets neglected because it is less sexy,” said Andy Hargadon, associate director of commercialization at UCD’s Energy Efficiency Center.
The fundamental challenge, Hargadon said, is to make energy efficiency sexy.
“It’s about education and options, and about equating efficiency with intelligence and attitude,” he said. “When you can see it, over-consumption is not sexy.”
The UC Davis Energy Efficiency center was originally funded with a grant from the California Clean Energy Fund, which issued a challenge to Stanford, UC Berkeley and UC Davis looking for an establishment of a center dedicated to energy efficiency, and particularly toward commercializing energy research.
“I think the major thing that we did was focus the plan of the center around commercialization – specifically supporting researchers doing clean energy research in their efforts to commercialize their work,” Hargadon said.
The Center’s funding now comes from the utilities in the state that see it as an opportunity to gain access to new technologies and well-educated labor. This includes companies like WalMart and Chevron Energy Solutions. Both have been hiring UC Davis students as interns and project managers, Hargadon said.
Hargadon’s commercialization division works in coordination with entrepreneurs to help them make business sense of their technology get them on their feet.
One technology that blossomed with the help of the EEC is WicKool – an evaporative cooling technology that helps improve the efficiency of rooftop air conditioning units by basically “pre-cooling the air.”
WicKool is a tray that sits beneath a rooftop air conditioning unit and collects the liquids that condense.
“So the water comes down in to the tray from the appliance though gravity, and then the wicking media puts the water up in the air stream, and that increases the efficiency by cooling the air that is going in to the condenser coils,” said Siva Gunda, an EEC fellow and a Ph.D candidate in mechanical engineering at Davis.
Gunda said that WicKool is capable of saving in the range of 4 to 9 percent of energy costs, depending on the climate where the unit is.
“In drier climates you have less condensate coming out, where as in more humid places there is more condensate – and the more you have then it can pre-cool that much more air going in to the air conditioning unit,” he said.
Another retrofit technology that has passed through the EEC is CEDR, or cost-effective-demand- response lighting. CEDR gives the utilities of participating companies control to switch off half of their lights during the day.
“Our research shows that more than 70 percent of people don’t take advantage of the switch on their wall,” Gunda said. “This is especially wasteful in the middle of the day – when energy use is at its highest – and rolling blackouts occur as a result of available power supply being less than demand.”
Alan Meier, associate director of education at the EEC, tackles the human side of efficiency.
Meier teaches a senior-level undergraduate class on energy efficiency – PTP 289 – that examines the “other side of the meter,” how energy is used and how it might be saved.
“Most of the time when people talk about energy problems, they come up with solutions that involve with increasing supply,” Meier said. “My course deals with the other side of that, the less-mentioned idea of decreasing demand.”
While conserving energy can be as simple as turning off the light when you leave the room, Meier strives to show that it can be more sophisticated than that, and through some projects more fun. One calculation he offers to his students is to find out how much energy is consumed by the five million people on Earth playing World of Warcraft at the moment – “A whole lot,” Meier said.
Meier also stresses that one’s awareness to conserve energy is a product of economics and sociology – that lifestyle and class status are closely related to energy consumption. Students who leave appliances on standby are a prime example of this.
“In the typical student’s home, 20 percent or more of the electricity consumption is caused by appliances that are off, or maybe not doing their primary purpose,” he said.
While this can be mitigated by a power strip, some appliances are advised to remain plugged in even while not in use, like cable boxes, which take a while to reboot.
“They’re not doing anything while we’re away, but they filter a lot of power,” Meier said. “It’s possible that a cable box with a DVR consumes as much electricity as a refrigerator.”
Hargadon expressed optimism that America’s attitude toward energy has been in flux, and that the plug may soon be pulled on people’s apathy toward energy efficiency.
“These days, thanks to the new administration and its efforts, people are starting to learn about the benefits of focusing only on efficiency – in the cars they buy and drive, the lights and appliances they use and how they use them,” he said.
More information about the Energy Efficiency Center can be found at eec.ucdavis.edu.
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.