Saving Energy Through Technology

By Anna Lynn Spitzer

Irvine, CA, July 23rd, 2013 -- Projects underway in the California Plug Load Research Center (CalPlug) at Calit2 made a favorable impression last week on two visitors who know a thing or two about energy efficiency. 

The new director of energy efficiency at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, David Jacot, and Amir Tabakh, the utility’s chief of energy efficiency engineering, toured the CalPlug center on Friday, and afterwards, expressed an interest in future collaborations.  

Arthur Zhang, CalPlug technology manager said the visitors were especially interested in the center’s Wall of Power, set-top box display and SimLab demonstrations. 
Wall of Power is a virtual-physical simulated living room in which everyday entertainment and household devices communicate real-time energy consumption to consumers. 

Stu Ross and Arthur Zhang (on left) and G.P. Li and Joy Pixley (on right) 
pose with Amir Tabakh and David Jacot (center) before taking the LADWP 
executives on a tour of the CalPlug Center. (Photos: Mark Tameta)

The set-top box project is building new prototypes that will improve the energy efficiency of the ubiquitous devices, which serve as cable and satellite receivers, network and Internet connections, and video game players, as well as real-time connections to DVD and CD players, camcorders and music keyboards.

SIM Labs provides energy consumption tests for emerging technologies in simulated environments, such as a living room and a business center.

The LADWP, a publicly owned utility, is interested in finding ways to promote enhanced energy efficiency to its customers. The LADWP has a $267-million energy efficiency budget over the next two fiscal years that will finance and effort to increase energy efficiency 10-15 percent by 2020. Jacot’s role is to develop and manage the utility’s energy-saving programs for residential, commercial and industrial customers.

Tabahk and Jacot peer inside a deconstructed set-top box.

“Prior research shows that peer pressure is the most effective way to influence consumer behavior,” Zhang said. “Jacot and Tabakh liked that the Wall of Power is a unique way to deliver this type of information to consumers.”

The two also liked what they saw in the set-top box presentation, where research focuses on building devices that don’t exceed 5 watts of power and can be awakened in less than five seconds, said Zhang, “They really liked the center’s ongoing collaborations with industry and service providers,” he added.
Another highlight of the tour was the “Patient Connect” project, a robot-like device that uses set-top box protocols to connect hospitalized children with their classrooms. “At-home healthcare is gaining in popularity and they were intrigued by how the robot moves and shows different facial expressions,” Zhang recounted.

Jacot, who said LADWP is seeking scalable, immersive technologies that are easily deployed, noted all the projects’ potential for energy savings.  “We believe energy efficiency is our number one natural resource,” he said. 

Calit2 Irvine division director G.P. Li deemed the visit a success. “LADWP is by far the largest publicly-owned utility in the state, and they are very interested in enhancing energy efficiency in their technology and with their customers,” Li said.  “Calit2 and CalPlug look forward to helping them achieve these goals.”