Creating Connections, Powering Innovation

By Shelly Nazarenus

Irvine, December 6, 2017 —  At an early age we are taught that it is important to turn things off when not in use. Now, it’s more complicated: roughly 50 devices and appliances in the typical American household are always drawing power, even when they appear to be off, according to a U.S. Department of Energy report. These so-called plug load devices – products that are powered by means of an ordinary AC plug – are the focus of UC Irvine’s CalPlug research center.

The unique facility was established to improve energy efficiency in the use and design of these proliferating devices. By all estimates, the number and energy intensity of plug-in devices will increase to 30% of total U.S. energy use by 2030. Critical to CalPlug’s success is its partnerships with government agencies, manufacturers, retailers, NGOs and utility companies. Initial funding came from the California Energy Commission and the center is now supported by member companies and funded research activities

A dozen LADWP engineers visit CalPlug this fall to further collaborations.

“CalPlug focuses on energy efficiency solutions, efficiency evaluations of consumer electronics, standards development, user-behavior studies, and education and public outreach,” said G.P. Li, the Center’s director.

In 2012, CalPlug began collaborating with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, the largest municipal utility in the country. The initial partnership was led by David Jacot, LADWP director of efficiency solutions, and Amir Tabakh, chief of efficiency solutions engineering & LADWP La Kretz Labs. In a recent visit to UCI, twelve LADWP engineers met with CalPlug researchers to delve further into future opportunities.

CalPlug researcher Joy Pixley explains preliminary results from the Power Management User Interface study.

“We want to partner with UCI because you are researching innovative solutions for plug load energy efficiency,” Tabakh told the CalPlug team. “It is very important to focus our attention on this critical area of mutual interest as household population grows in southern California, so too will the energy demand.”

Educating consumers is key to improving energy consumption behavior. CalPlug routinely demonstrates prototype development, and welcomes partner companies to showcase their products and technologies in the Center. During their visit, the LADWP engineers saw a dizzying array of activity.

In the 1kWh Challenge room, an LADWP engineer uses
bike power to generate electricity.

Projects showcased included:

  • Energy Channel – user-friendly application that relays instant power usage – detailed real-time energy information for a home’s SmartConnect meter – to a television display and smart phone
  • Wall of Power – a demonstration designed to provide interactive consumer education on plug load devices and systems’ energy consumption
  • Power Management User Interface – a study to encourage people to use sleep settings on their computers
  • Connected Energy Control of Plug Load Devices – an approach using an intelligent system for reliable and responsive power management using connected sensors and devices.
  • Projector Buddy – a tool for classroom energy management in which a “smart” system (i.e. artificial intelligence) detects users in the location of a projector and turns it off if no usage is detected
  • SmartMON – a device usage and tracking system that independently audits technology usage in schools to make more effective classroom technology implementation
  • Smart Devices and Electric Vehicle Charges for Grid Demand Response – a solution that enables smart-scheduled residential charging of EVs in response to grid loading
  • 5W5s – a prototype solution that allows set-top boxes to go to sleep at less than five watts and wake up in five seconds
  • 1kWh Challenge – an educational game room tailored to inspire and train the next generation to take an active role in energy-efficiency solutions

In addition to demonstrations, CalPlug regularly hosts workshops and events to maximize communication of the latest research findings. Typical events include experts from different sectors to ensure informed decisions and actions on technology and business development. Among the many outcomes, collaborators hope efforts will help new construction and developers attain zero net energy code and standards mandates by 2020 and 2030 for residential and commercial buildings, respectively.

Ultimately, the goal is to bring awareness of, and solutions for, the burgeoning plug load devices that are guzzling power even when they are not in use.

“Consumer education and adoption is the key to reducing energy consumption,” Li explained to the LADWP engineers. “Collaborations with partners like you will lead to rate payers making more informed decisions and saving a lot of energy and money.”

--Shelly Nazarenus