December 2010 Newsletter

Letter from CITRIS Director – Director Paul Wright reflects on the growing testbed culture at CITRIS.

Dear Friends of CITRIS,

“CITRIS: IT Juice for the World.” It is just a bumper sticker slogan we have put up around here, but I like it. Indeed, we work on all aspects of the state’s, and the country’s, energy challenges. In addition to cultivating clean technologies, their business models, and suitable regulatory environments, CITRIS is also using IT to coordinate these technologies to provide a reliable, safe, and efficient flow of electricity. As California continues to develop its solar, wind, biogas, tidal, wave-action, nuclear, and other energy sources, and as it continues to invest in efficiency technologies like demand-response, we must apply IT innovations to coordinate all those elements into an efficient concert of production and use.

On all four CITRIS campuses, researchers have developed separate testbeds for putting cutting edge energy technologies to work. At UC Berkeley, there is the Cory Hall Testbed project, which we covered recently. At UC Santa Cruz, Professor John Vesecky is leading an effort to convert the Santa Cruz Wharf into an energy-self-sufficient unit. The ambitious West Village development at UC Davis is doing something similar, but for a housing complex and multi-purpose community center that will be home for thousands. And, of course, the entire UC Merced campus is a testbed for new energy supply and efficiency systems.

As you will read below, each of these campus projects is in a different stage of evolution. But a new project, overseen by professors Bryan Jenkins and Ben Yoo at UC Davis, is examining a framework for hooking them up into a kind of testbed of interconnected testbeds. Processing data from nanoscale sensing elements all the way up to multi-gigawatt generation systems, these intelligent grids will have to operate across at least six orders of magnitude. Professor Jenkins calls this “an interesting optimization and control problem.” I’ll say it is. And when it works, it will certainly deserve the title of “smart grid,” and it will be, in large part, an Information Technology accomplishment.  Hooking one multi-source network into another is orders of magnitude more complex still, and figuring out how to do that efficiently will be key to linking local energy solutions into regional, state, and national ones. Projects like these—that exploit our multi-campus network of researchers, and our commitment to doing good by doing well— hit the CITRIS sweet spot. And the understanding, software, and technology that emerge from such projects will indeed be powerful CITRIS “juice” fueling the state’s economy, strengthening the energy infrastructure, and helping cure some of our most pressing environmental woes.

Best wishes for a peaceful holiday and continued good work together in 2011.

Paul K. Wright
Director, CITRIS and the Banatao Institute@CITRIS Berkeley

Power Speaking Truth to Power: CITRIS’s Emerging Testbed Framework – CITRIS researchers on all four campuses are working together to see how their unique systems can be coordinated; a challenge that must be faced on a larger scale if local energy solutions are to be woven into smart regional and national grids.

Power Speaking Truth to Power: CITRIS’s Emerging Testbed Framework by Gordy Slack

The current energy market is entrenched not only in its technology and infrastructure, but also in larger and less-concrete entities like politics, culture, and the economy. CITRIS researchers, looking at all of these aspects, are exploring innovative models for transforming our energy economy into one that would save money, conserve resources, work more reliably, and reduce pollution.  This has resulted in the development and integration of four projects, one on each CITRIS campus, exploring different aspects of the energy revolution, implementing cutting-edge technologies in systems that will both be real-life examples of conversion, and also act as testbeds for future research. Such testbeds are as rare as they are key to exploring and demonstrating the effectiveness of new systems. What’s more, the researchers on all four projects are working together to see how their unique systems can be coordinated; a challenge that must be faced on a larger scale if local energy solutions are to be woven into smart regional and national grids.

At UC Davis, the West Village will soon be home to 3,000 students and add 475 new houses for UCD faculty and staff. The new neighborhood will also host a community college center, open space, and retail space. Slated for a ribbon-cutting in 2012, West Village will use several renewable, on-site energy sources, including photovoltaic solar, solar thermal, and biogas generation (fueled by campus animal and food waste). The $250 million project will employ new energy efficiency technology, such as demand-response, as well as a progressive transit infrastructure that will make it easy and safe for people to travel by bicycle, on foot, or by bus. The combined effect of these technologies, along with a smart grid to coordinate and exploit them, should result in no-net-energy from the grid and no-net-carbon contribution.UC Davis’s new  West Village will use several renewable, on-site energy sources, including photovoltaic solar, solar thermal, and biogas generation.

“The whole project is an energy testbed or living laboratory,” says Bryan Jenkins, professor of biological and agricultural engineering and director of the UC Davis Energy Institute. In order to match the constantly shifting demand and power availability coming from all these different sources (including PG&E, which will buy power from West Village when it is generating more than it is using, and sell it back when the tides of use turn) with constantly shifting power need, the local area grid will need a much higher IQ than it has today; operators will have to track the supply and demand ends in order to continually match them up.

In the testbed alone, small-scale distributed generation systems will be linked to the grid and coordinated with utility generation systems operating up into the multi-gigawatt range. 

“Integrated power systems of this type potentially operate across six orders of magnitude or more,” notes Jenkins. “Including nanoscale sensing elements and other advanced monitoring and control technologies included in intelligent, integrated regional or national systems, the network will function across an even larger magnitude range and have to deal with enormous amounts of data.  Trying to coordinate across that range of scales is going to be an interesting optimization and control problem.”

The intelligent energy grid project led by Jenkins and Ben Yoo, CITRIS director for UC Davis, takes the West Village testbed and, working with other researchers from UC Davis, Berkeley, Merced, and Santa Cruz, explores ways to link it to testbed projects on those other CITRIS campuses.

“A major hindrance to efficiently shifting our energy economy is the fact that the aging energy infrastructure and the systems that it supports have very different configurations and performance complexities. Each configuration of the physical and logical energy infrastructure is unique,” says Jeff Wright, professor of engineering and CITRIS Director at UC Merced. “And each of these CITRIS projects has its own quirks and challenges. It is a microcosm of the bigger, national system.”

The UC Berkeley project, for instance, is working with a notoriously inefficient 50-year-old building, Cory Hall, home to Berkeley’s Electrical Engineering Division. This project, led by David Culler, chair of Berkeley’s Computer Science Department, measures not only how much energy is being consumed on a very local level, but also the specific service that that electricity is delivering throughout the building. In the future, such data could enable constant demand-response-type regulation, where less time-bound tasks are conducted when electricity is both more plentiful and less expensive.

Another conversion testbed is underway on the wharf in the city of Santa Cruz, as part of that city’s effort to save energy and reduce carbon emissions. The wharf is a popular destination for tourists, with restaurants spiced with gift shops, a boat rental concession, and other small retail businesses.

John Vesecky, Professor of Electrical Engineering at Santa Cruz’s Baskin School of Engineering, is leading the wharf project with Professor Pat Mantey of Computer Engineering and Professor Brent Haddad of Environmental Studies. They and their colleagues and students are working with the City of Santa Cruz and its Environmental Coordinator Ross Clark to make the wharf a no-net-use system. Still in the design and early implementation stage, and working with a grant from CITRIS, they are exploring the viability of an overlapping set of technologies, including solar arrays, vertical axis wind turbines,  and possibly also wave-action and tidal power generators. Vesecky expects the wharf to eventually generate a surplus of power during sunny days, and to sell that power to PG&E. Then, at night, when the solar source sets and the wind turbines typically slow as well, the system would buy power back from PG&E to run the restaurants and wharf lighting.  The broad aim of the project is to make the wharf energy-self-sufficient. While the project investigates specific innovations to existing technologies (some of the solar panels, for instance, will be coated with corrosion-resistant materials, and the wind turbines are employing various strategies for keeping local birds from tangling with them,) it also is employing brand new technologies.

The team is collaborating with Professor Carlos Coimbra at UC Merced, for example, who has developed a solar tracker that measures the direct incidence of solar radiation and will allow better real-time and predictive management.

“This project has been multidisciplinary from the get go,” says Vesecky. “There is the power-generation component, the design of the systems we are putting in; the assessment aspect, sensing and measuring the potential for different kinds of generation; and then there are the governmental relations parts.”

The wharf is owned by the city, which leases it to the vendors and contractors who run businesses there. Vesecky’s group needs to work with those tenants, assessing their needs and addressing their concerns. They are supportive of energy conservation, but they also have bottom lines to watch, and customers to keep happy. Part of the project is to survey wharf and nearby businesses to assess support and discover concerns and issues as well as explore the government permitting pathways needed to move forward.

Ultimately, the project should reduce the wharf tenant’s energy bills, says Vesecky, but installing the systems and making them work together may take time and present challenges that go beyond engineering.

And then there is the “smart grid” aspect of the project, Vesecky says. “We need to figure out how much energy we need, how much we can make, when we can sell it to PG&E, and when we need to buy it back.”

The project also has an educational component, says Vesecky. “The city is planning a display for the wharf’s visitors to learn about the project,” he says. They will be able to read live data from the monitors on the wharf and see how much energy the systems are producing and, for example, how much more C02 is generated when many people drive out there instead of walking.

Finally, UC Merced’s remarkably energy-efficient campus is a testbed that has been well wired with sensors and dedicated to extracting and processing valuable data from the start. Merced, like West Village and the Santa Cruz wharf, is striving for energy and carbon neutrality, says Jeff Wright.

“Although the four testbed sites might not be connected to each other, ‘logically or physically,’ for some time,” says Wright, “they do represent an important ‘framework’ that will attract researchers to CITRIS who are doing work that can take advantage of them.”  And each will evolve as new research challenges emerge that require the use of these well-understood systems. 

For example, the Merced testbed can evaluate experimental demand-response modeling methodologies; sensor development and testing; alternate energy control methodologies; and other emerging hardware and software technologies,  all within the context of a real grid. That is tremendously valuable to researchers who have ideas, and even products, but nowhere to try them out. 

Ultimately, all four projects, and many more from UC’s other campuses, could be coordinated so that decisions to transfer, store, buy, or sell electricity could be optimized, taking the big picture, and the thousands of tiny pictures, all into account. The new intelligent energy grid project begins the process of linking the campuses and designing the framework by which to investigate innovative sensing, monitoring, information management, and user-interface strategies. And the CITRIS testbeds, now coming online and reaching out toward one another, represent a unique and powerful resource for all kinds of researchers who want to contribute to that work.