CalPlug Workshop: Promoting Energy Efficiency

By Anna Lynn Spitzer


CalPlug's Joy Pixley (left) and Intel's Shahid Sheikh answer audience questions.


Irvine, November 17, 2014 

When the California Plug Load Research Center opened at Calit2 in 2012, its mandate was to unite researchers, utilities, manufacturers, nonprofits and policy makers in pursuit of improved energy efficiency in the rapidly expanding plug load sector. This month, CalPlug held its sixth semiannual workshop, building on its highly successful collaborative approach.

More than 60 stakeholders gathered in the Calit2 auditorium on Nov. 6 to share the results of their work and brainstorm about future collaboration.  Calit2 Irvine division Director G.P. Li opened the workshop with an overview of CalPlug’s mission, goals and projects. “We believe interaction and communication, and making the work we do transparent, is the foundation of success. And that’s how we can build a bigger ecosystem for promoting energy efficiency,” Li said.

He emphasized CalPlug’s commitment to research, development, product demonstration and education, saying, “We believe public acceptance of energy products is key to having an efficient society. Let’s work together as a team to find solutions.”

The event’s first presenter was CalPlug researcher Joy Pixley, who shared the results of the center’s recently published computer power-management study. The two-part study included a user survey of 2,000 UCI affiliates pertaining to their home and office desktops and laptops,  and follow-up monitoring of the power management settings on 119 computers used by some of those respondents.
The study found that computers are not delivering their full energy savings potential even though they have built-in automatic power-management settings and manual power-saving options, including sleep, hibernate and shutdown. “The system has to do what users want it to do or they will find a way around it, and that’s exactly what’s happening in a lot of computers right now,” Pixley said.


              Presenters (from left): Stephen Dulac, Fadi Kurdahi, Gary Langille and Al Choperena


Pixley said that between one-third and two-thirds of workplace computers’ settings are being changed from those set by the manufacturers, and the number is even higher on home computers – between one-half and two-thirds. “Between what people are telling us and what we’re observing in the monitoring study, people are changing the settings on a lot of these computers –mostly they’re disabling them. The question is: given that people’s computers are disabled, how do we get them to re-enable the settings?”

Intel’s Shahid Sheikh discussed the computer industry’s trends. “Performance has improved a lot over the last 40 years, about 10 to the 7th power since 1970, while power usage has decreased 10 to the 8th power,” he said. “The whole idea is to deliver great performance within the power envelope and improve the compute energy efficiency. The key driver is optimum system power management.”

It’s essential to figure out optimum power management settings, Sheikh said. If they’re too aggressive, it becomes an annoyance and people disable it. If the display remains on for too long when the machine is not in use, energy is wasted. “We have to strike a good balance,” he said. “People like to multi-task; they want to spend very little time on one thing and they want things to work very quickly. Industry is doing everything it can to improve device focus, and now we have to focus on how do we educate users in a way that they can use it?”

CalPlug technical director Arthur Zhang discussed the center’s future research strategies, including networked energy efficiency. He said devices will be developing their own language to communicate with each other about their power consumption and power space. CalPlug will start developing network protocols that can function at household and smart-grid levels.

A recent simulation showed possible energy savings of 30-40 percent with this networked approach. “In three to four years,” Zhang said, “that translates to almost 2.9 terawatt hours of energy savings in California, about $415 million in savings.”

“People spend more than five hours on their home entertainment systems per day, and overall energy consumption is nearing 9 terawatt hours across the U.S.,” he added. “CalPlug and member companies want to work together to build a bottom-up architecture so devices and users can collaborate and negotiate on energy consumption.”

Stephen Dulac, from CalPlug partner DirecTV, was greeted with applause when he told the audience his company had received an Energy Star Partner of the Year award for the fifth time. The company has more than 50 million Energy Star-approved set-top boxes in customers’ homes and continues to produce more efficient models each year. “We want to keep raising our percentage of Energy Star products,  and we’re on track for that,” Dulac said.

DirecTV’s set-top box total energy usage continues to decrease, even as the number of boxes increases. Dulac said total energy consumption has dropped 11.4 percent since 2012, thanks to efforts to produce more efficient boxes and retire older, less-efficient devices.

Engineering professor Fadi Kurdahi has been working with CalPlug on characterizing estimation and reporting of energy usage by personal computer components. His team developed a model that examines the power state of each PC component and is currently testing the accuracy of the model.

CalPlug researchers (from left) Melissa Valdez, Sergio Gago, Zhentao Sun, Linyi Xia and Minfeng Wang describe their ongoing projects.

“There’s a large variability in PC consumption so that’s another reason you need such a tool,” Kurdahi said. “We are working on the actual tool itself right now, which will allow anyone to take their own measurements or take our model and use it to estimate energy on a PC.”

EchoStar Technologies’ Gary Langille, whose company provides set-top boxes for Dish Network customers, said one way to reduce boxes’ energy consumption is to utilize consumer electronics controls, like HDMI. By allowing a direct connection between the television and the set-top box to coordinate the on-off switches, consumers don’t have to remember to individually power off individual components.

“This is more important than people think,” he said. “A study shows that 50 percent of people either leave the set top box on or the TV on when they turn off the entertainment center. So that’s a lot of energy wasted. The goal here is to just make sure devices are off when you don’t need them.”

Presenters G.P. Li, Arthur Zhang, Ken Williams and Paul Delaney

Complications arise when considering auxiliary components, however. “Everyone wants to be connected to TV input ‘A,’ meaning that when you turn the TV on and it starts up, your device is connected to that,” Langille said. But that requires every device to maintain higher-than-necessary standby power because they have to be able to pass the signal through even when they’re not switched on.

“The best solution, I think, is what Arthur’s proposing, some kind of intelligent energy application using IP control,” Langille concluded.

Home entertainment electronics offer an effective way to incur cost-effective energy savings, and the next session provided a look at future device design and interoperability features. Project leads for CalPlug demonstration projects presented a look at their work, including Wall of Power, Energy Channel, Behavior Adaptive Smart Home System, SIM Lab and the 1KwH Challenge.

Following a working lunch in the Calit2 Atrium, the sessions resumed with a “Go-to-Market Roadmap for Emerging Technology.” Since fewer than one of 10 “next-greatest” product ideas makes it to market, the session featured representatives from several energy-focused companies, as well as a nonprofit consulting company, discussing the challenges and sharing strategies for success. Those strategies include lab research, survey and simulation, pilot studies and field tests, and promotion and product scale-up tips.

Jeff Lin discussed Valta, a Canadian plug-level energy-management company that sells an easily installed cloud-based, app-driven, plug-and-play system for controlling appliances and other plug load devices. “We try to educate people as to where the savings opportunities occur. We’re trying to do optimization without compromise,” Lin said.

The company, which also manufactures lighting, is working with CalPlug to simulate and test their systems. “CalPlug has been very instrumental in working with us, in validating our measurements, theories and energy savings,” Lin said. “They have a lab with equipment that’s better than what I’ve got in my lab.”

Al Choperena founded Smartenit to enable homes and buildings to easily automate electricity and water savings. “You save water, you’re saving energy. You save electricity, you’re saving energy,” said Choperena. The company manufactures sensors and controllers, providing end-to-end solutions. “I’m a firm believer that it really is about a broad solution,” he said.

Valta's Jeff Lin

Choperena, who has experience with several pilot projects, said it’s essential to have full support of all sponsors. “If you have full support you can refine any issues that arise,” he told the audience. “It’s very easy to look at a trial or a pilot and jump to the failure as opposed to looking at it as a learning opportunity. If you don’t treat these opportunities as a learning experience you’re not going to get any better.”

He also advised having clearly defined communication and knowing who is responsible for which task in a trial. Don’t try to solve all the problems yourselves, he suggested, and accept that some ideas just won’t work. “It’s easy to forget when you want the dream so badly. But there’s a big difference between persevering and being an obstinate, stubborn person who ignores the obvious.”

Product promotion and scale-up was Ken Williams' focus. Williams represents the Wisconsin Energy Conservation Corp. (WECC), a non-profit that implements, designs and administers energy efficiency programs for clients across the country.

He said there is roughly $8 billion available nationally to fund energy efficiency programs, with approximately $1 billion of that in California. “So there’s plenty of money to run these programs and there’s plenty of money to get new technologies out there,” he said.

The bad news, however, is customer resistance, caused by initial cost and a lack of certainty about the ultimate benefits.  “There’s always the decision about whether you want to upgrade your insulation or get granite in the kitchen; usually the granite wins out,” he said to audience laughter.

Williams said products must be independently tested before they become part of a ratepayer-funded incentive program, and that’s where centers like CalPlug are crucial. “These energy efficiency programs have to be cost-effective. So if a vendor comes in with a product that has been thoroughly tested, that helps get technologies into the program(s).”

Williams shared several other programs that can help promote emerging technologies with the audience, including federal and state grant programs.

The day’s last speaker was Southern California Edison’s Paul Delaney, who said the utility is looking for demand-reduction and energy-efficiency savings opportunities and technologies. SCE has available funds “in three buckets,” according to Delaney: new technology development and support; assessments to verify performance; and technology information support.

“We’re looking for ways to manage the load curve,” Delaney explained. “We look for new products, new integrated approaches that we can validate performance for and then help it into the marketplace through incentives and other marketing. This afternoon, we’re looking to help fill our funnel. We’re looking for how we can develop this roadmap, how we can look for opportunities to work together. We have funds set aside for doing just these sorts of things.”

The workshop was followed by demonstrations and a reception in the CalPlug Center. "I think the day was really productive," said Calit2's Li. "By working with industry, utilities and customers, we can ignite the growth of a successful energy efficient economy."