Greenovation Forum Deems Environmental Sensors 'Low-Hanging Fruit' in Journey Toward Sustainability

San Diego, Calif., Dec. 11, 2009 — Seeking "a more sustainable approach to sustainability," experts in academia, industry, government and the non-profit sector gathered at the University of California, San Diego last week for the first Greenovation Forum of the academic year.
Larry Smarr with shot from underwater video feed
To demonstrate how extreme environments can still support sensor technology,  Smarr showed archived footage from a high definition camera that had been attached to the Jason II submersible and sent 2 1/2 kilometers below the ocean's surface into a region of extremely high-temperature deep-sea vents.

A partnership of UC San Diego's Sustainability Solutions Institute and the Scripps Foundation for Science and the Environment, the Greenovation Forum is a year-long series of lectures and workshops that aim to inspire innovation, dialogue, research projects and action in San Diego's green technology sector. The topic for the first session — held at the UCSD-division of the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2) — was "Sensing and Sustainability," and explored the many ways environmental sensors can make efforts at sustainability both measurable and manageable.

"When it comes to efforts to reduce energy consumption, there is a difference in opinion between the developed and developing world," noted forum moderator Vish Krishnan, the Sheryl and Harvey White Endowed Chair and Professor of Innovation, Technology and Operations at UCSD's Rady School of Management. "Much of the developing world is focused on lifting their people out of poverty, and views the push for sustainability with doubt, especially when it is not backed by concrete data or about reducing per-capita consumption.

“In the context of this broader lack of trust or credibility, environmental sensors help provide measurability, manageability and, therefore, credibility," he continued. "They help demonstrate a real seriousness about sustainability, and are the low-hanging fruit in this journey. We are able to leverage tremendous progress in the information and communication technology areas and bring that to bear to eliminate waste and increase awareness of usage of precious natural resources."

A number of sensor-based projects are already underway at UC San Diego, including the High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN), which was touted at the forum by Calit2 Founding Director Larry Smarr as an example of the next generation of scientific and environmental monitoring systems. HPWREN collects real-time data from a wide variety of sensors in a wireless network that spans San Diego and Imperial counties.

Two of the major impacts of climate change in Southern California will be changes to the water system and greater frequency and intensity of wildfires. To better support sustainability research, HPWREN is equipped with sensors that are being used in both arenas. For instance, sensor data collected by HPWREN was used to track the wildfires that ravaged San Diego in 2007, and it measures water variables in the Santa Margarita River as well as other key water bodies. 

Vish Krishnan
“Environmental sensors help provide measurability, manageability and, therefore, credibility," remarked Professor Vish Krishnan, moderator of the Greenovation Forum. "They help demonstrate a real seriousness about sustainability, and are the low-hanging fruit in this journey."
Smarr says this is just the beginning of widespread deployment of sensors on fixed and mobile platforms as miniaturization drives down the cost of a wider and wider array of sensors. To demonstrate how extreme environments can still support sensor technology,  Smarr showed archived footage from a high definition camera that had been attached to the Jason II submersible and sent 2 1/2 kilometers below the ocean's surface into a region of extremely high-temperature deep-sea vents. (The video was originally fed live back to Calit2 auditorium in real-time.) In addition, the robot arm of the Jason II was able to stick temperature and other sensors into crevices of the hydrothermal vents.  This expedition was organized and led by Professor John Delaney of the University of Washington.

"The temperature of the fluids emerging into the near freezing water in that region of the ocean is twice the temperature of boiling water at the surface,” remarked Smarr. “If we can put sensors in that environment, we can put them anywhere in the world. These sensors give us tools for management we've never had before."

Another sensor-based project to emerge from UC San Diego is DEMROES, or Decision Making using Real-time Observations for Environmental Sustainability. DEMROES operates a sophisticated network of wireless meteorological sensors on the UCSD campus to collect a variety of atmospheric data. The project's principal investigator, Assistant Professor of Environmental Engineering Jan Kleissl, presented a lecture and video about DEMROES at the Greenovation Forum to demonstrate its many applications in meteorology, urban planning, energy conservation and irrigation control.

”The data we collect from the DEMROES sensors help us understand how to use ocean breezes to cool buildings, for example, or where the sunniest spots are on campus for installing solar panels," Kleissl explained. "From this data we can learn how to design buildings, or how to increase or decrease irrigation in real time. Sensors can even detect clouds overhead so solar power systems will know when to store and release energy."

Kleissl added that within the realm of sensor technology, there is a real need for sensors that are consistently reliable.

"We don't need engineers to design for the cutting edge," he said. "We need them to design for something that works."

Designing sensors that work is also the goal of Shimon Gersten, the chief technology officer at Talon Communications and another featured speaker at the forum. Gersten's current activities include ongoing development of sensors in ‘smart energy,’ medical devices and proprietary wireless body area networks. His lecture focused on the role of sensors in the ‘energy ecosystem’ and their capacity for improving upon the nation's proposed smart energy grid, which, according to Gersten, could lead to a cumulative economic benefit of $90 billion a year by 2020.
Greenovation panel speakers and audience
A partnership of UC San Diego's Sustainability Solutions Institute and the Scripps Foundation for Science and the Environment, the Greenovation Forum is a year-long series of lectures and workshops that aim to inspire innovation, dialogue, research projects and action in San Diego's green technology sector.

"If we can measure and see how much electricity we are using in real-time, we can see how much it's costing us," noted Gersten. "The problem is, right now the information flow is only one way — a natural resource is distributed and then consumed. With low-energy, wireless sensors, we will be able to close that loop on the electricity grid and better understand the impact of both the distribution and consumption on a particular utility. This leads to increased awareness and social pressure, which can minimize consumption during peak times. And if the community as a whole reduces consumption, the community as a whole pays less for electricity."

The next Greenovation Forum takes place from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 24, at the Calit2 Auditorium in Atkinson Hall at UC San Diego. Moderating the program on "Nature and Sustainability" will be Professor Lisa Shaffer, a lecturer with UCSD’s Rady School of Management and the School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UC San Diego. Joining Shaffer will be Professor William Fenical, director of the Center for Marine Biotechnology and Biomedicine at UCSD's Scripps Institution of Oceanography, Paula Brock, the Chief Financial Officer of the San Diego Zoo who will discuss the zoo’s efforts on Biomimicry, and a representative from the J. Craig Venter Institute, who will talk about their work in synthetic genomics.

Admission to the Greenovation Forum is free and open to the public, although space is limited. RSVPs for the event will be accepted beginning in January, 2010. For more information, visit http://ssi.ucsd.edu/greenovation or contact Michelle Session at msession@ucsd.edu

Related Links

Greenovation Forum

High Performance Wireless Research and Education Network (HPWREN)

Decision Making using Real-time Observations for Environmental Sustainability (DEMROES)

Talon Communications

 

Media Contacts

Tiffany Fox, (858) 246-0353, tfox@ucsd.edu