July 2010 Newsletter

Dear Friends of CITRIS:

There are no two ways about it. We rely much too heavily on dirty energy sources, like oil and coal. Either we address this problem quickly, or the 21st century is going to be an ugly one.

The tragedy of the BP explosion is particularly poignant, because we can see and feel the connection between the dirty stuff (crude oil), and its environmental effects (suffocating pelicans, ravished wetlands, and out-of-work fishermen.) But even if the BP well keeps leaking at its maximum rate for an entire year, it will give off less than two-days-worth of ordinary US oil usage. The big problem is not leaks and accidents, it is our modus operandi.

The good news is, there is a lot we can do to address the crisis both by cleaning up energy production and by finding ways to do much more with much less of it. We need to make cleaner energy, and we need to be smarter about how we use it.

These are, in large part, technical challenges. But they are more than just that. As my esteemed colleague Carl Blumstein, director of the California Institute for Energy and Environment (CIEE) says, “in addition to the right technology we also need to understand the economics, psychology, marketing, policy administration, and politics of energy. The energy problem is as multi-disciplinary as they come.”

Even a great new technology, like our programmable communicating thermostats (PCT), would just sit on the lab bench unless someone who understands the marketing and regulatory environments ushers it into the world, unless it is affordable, and unless it is palatable to politicians and their employees. In the case of the PCT, CITRIS did a good job on all fronts. Our affiliates in the policy world helped us navigate the regulatory shoals, leading to the adoption of standards that will make our PCT designs take off in the next several years. And our partners in the business world, such as the Radio Thermostat Company of America, have devised business models to give the technology real traction on the street.

This month’s newsletter focuses on the “smarter” side of the equation. The Cory Hall Testbed project, the nine-month-long first stage of which has been successfully designed and carried out by UC Berkeley professor David Culler through i4Energy, takes a close look at how energy is used by that big, complicated, energy-hungry building, home to the UCB EECS Department. As Blumstein says in the second article, about the new Cleantech to Market (C2M) project, “before you can get good energy control, you need to do good monitoring.” The lessons we are learning at Cory will be applicable all over campus, and ultimately all over the world.

Something that will make it much, much easier to get good energy-use feedback from buildings is the MEMS sensor technology we’re developing here at Berkeley and other CITRIS campuses. Once we’ve got an inexpensive, wireless, and scalable means of getting reliable real-time data about the flow of energy through a building, we can understand it in a way that should allow for a huge (>20%) reduction in energy use, says Blumstein. Now that is an idea that should be easy to sell. Especially if you are a clever MBA student, like those enrolled in the Cleantech to Market (C2M) program that is the focus of our second story.
C2M, a project of the Haas School of Business' Energy Institute, takes our energy research students and pairs them and their ideas with MBA students to develop real-world business plans for their technology. “It is a course,” says co-director Beverly Alexander, “but it is more like an incubator.” Their magnificent June presentations at CITRIS HQ in Berkeley proved that is no exaggeration.

Here at CITRIS, a key part of our mission is to “shorten the pipeline between world-class laboratory research in science and engineering and the creation of startups, companies, and whole industries.” No place is this more important to do than in the clean energy field. Between the excellent work of i4Energy, as evidenced by the Cory Hall Testbed, and the impressive business planning at C2M, we are beginning to get real traction.

Thanks and keep up the good work.

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

CITRIS Receives $2.3 Million DOE Research Award
CITRIS was recently awarded a $2.3 million U.S. Department of Energy American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) contract to develop a Distributed Intelligent Automated Demand Response (DIADR) management system for buildings. The purpose of the research is to achieve 30% peak demand reduction while still maintaining the building as a healthy, productive, and comfortable environment for the building occupants.

CITRIS to help build sustainability toolkit for California
CITRIS, in collaboration with Calit2 and the Institute for the Future, has launched a project aimed at developing a sustainable future for California over the next ten years and beyond. The diverse group of researchers will produce a comprehensive roadmap of key issues facing California.

CITRIS Chief Scientist Thomas Nesbitt Receives Leadership Award
Thomas Nesbitt, CITRIS Chief Scientist and associate vice chancellor for strategic technologies and alliances for UC Davis Health System, has received the 2010 Leadership Award for the Advancement of Telemedicine from the American Telemedicine Association.