CEC award aids new energy-saving interface

By Sharon Henry

Irvine, June 21, 2016— 

The California Energy Commission has awarded $785,124 to the California Plug Load Research Center (CalPlug) at UC Irvine to develop a new tool to increase utilization of low-power modes in computers. The project will be led by Joy Pixley, CalPlug social sciences project manager.

The goal is to develop and test an innovative user interface that will encourage users to take advantage of power-saving capabilities available on desktop computers. Prior research indicates that users who adopt more positive power-management behaviors can reduce desktop computer power consumption by 50 percent or more.

The new interface will be tested on desktop computers of several hundred UCI employees. Monitoring those computers’ energy consumption and power states (off, sleep mode, user active, user idle) will reveal how users respond to the new interface. Testing also will provide extensive data on how users behave toward power-management options in desktop computers, which can guide future innovations in energy-efficient designs.

“The proposed solution to energy-inefficient desktop computers doesn’t require any fundamental new advances in programming, hardware or networking − only the intelligent application of current knowledge and tools,” Pixley said. Another advantage is that a software solution can be applied to existing desktops in residential and commercial settings;  energy savings need not wait until new devices are purchased," she said.

Development of the prototype began last month; field testing and analyses will be completed by spring 2019. The project team anticipates future collaborations with utility, industry and government agency partners, who can freely distribute this tool to computer users across the state. 

This CEC-funded project builds upon two prior projects conducted by Pixley at CalPlug: a 2013 computer-use survey and a 2014 monitoring study of computer power-management behaviors.

The California Energy Commission is the state’s primary energy policy and planning agency. The agency was established by the California Legislature through the Warren-Alquist Act in 1974. It has seven core responsibilities: advancing state energy policy, encouraging energy efficiency, certifying thermal power plants, investing in energy innovation, developing renewable energy, transforming transportation, and preparing for energy emergencies.