Selected tags: Pecan Street

New Database from Pecan Street, WikiEnergy, Promises to Reveal Important Energy Insights

Source: Trace3

Source: Trace3

As our society moves deeper into the realms of big data, at times it can seem overwhelming that our actions can generate millions of data points. Therefore, what we do with that data becomes crucial in the new energy landscape, as big data promises to improve our lives by unlocking innovation.

By 2015, 340 million smart meters will be supplying data to utilities worldwide, reading and reporting energy from 15-minute to 1-second intervals. For a medium-sized utility, with a half-million meters, that adds up to 52 billion data points a year. Utilities are not necessarily equipped to interpret this information, and insights can be lost.

Enter the newest arm of Pecan Street, Inc: WikiEnergy. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Smart Grid| Also tagged | Comments closed

Secretary Moniz Deems Austin’s Pecan Street ‘Very Impressive’

This commentary originally appeared on our Texas Clean Air Matters Blog.

EDF's Marita Mirzatuny with Secretary Moniz at Pecan Street's Pike Powers Labratory

EDF's Marita Mirzatuny with Secretary Moniz at Pecan Street's Pike Powers Labratory

Earlier this month, I had the privilege of presenting a short summary of EDF’s Smart Power Initiative to Dr. Ernest Moniz, the U.S. Secretary of Energy. As a group of over 30 people piled into the Pike Powers Laboratory (including the lab’s namesake), the Secretary made his way in, beelined for some coffee, and sat down to hear all about Austin’s innovative and collaborative energy “ecosystem.”

Present was the Mayor of Austin, Lee Leffingwell, various cleantech entrepreneurs sponsored by the Austin Technology Incubator (ATI), representatives from the State Energy Conservation Office (SECO), and the Governor’s office, among others.

Everyone had the opportunity to speak to the Secretary in a roundtable format about the work their particular company or group is doing to solve energy problems, and as EDF’s representative, I reported on our Smart Power work in Texas. Read More »

Posted in Clean Energy, Demand Response, Energy Efficiency, Renewable Energy, Smart Grid| Tagged | Comments closed

Pecan Street’s Study Shows Electric Vehicles Won’t Overload the Electric Grid

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some of the world’s largest automakers release their first mass-market electric vehicles.  Models like the Chevrolet Volt, Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S are popular with consumers looking to reduce their carbon footprint and spend less at the pump.  But the vehicles’ rising popularity has raised concerns about the effect they might have on the electric grid, particularly during the hot summer months in Texas.

Electric vehicles are the largest new home electric load in decades.  Some suspected that drivers, upon returning home from work, would charge their vehicles during the evening hours (a ‘rush-hour’ time for the wires that carry our energy, which strains the electric grid).  They thought that the increased need for energy would overwhelm the electric system, possibly force utilities to fire up more dirty fossil fuel power plants and offset any potential environmental benefits of the gasoline-free car.  Thankfully, this line of thinking is now an idea of the past.

A recent report from Pecan Street proves that electric vehicles have less of an impact on the electric grid than anticipated. Read More »

Posted in Electric Vehicles, Smart Grid, Texas| Tagged | 3 Responses, comments now closed

This Green Building Sets A High Bar For The Rest Of America

Source: Miller Hull Partnership

On Earth Day this year, The Bullitt Center opened its doors in Seattle, Washington.  The six-story building is being hailed as the greenest commercial building in the world.  Its specs are very impressive indeed, including:

  • 56,000-gallon cistern for rainwater collection;
  • Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels on the roof that are estimated to generate 230,000 kilowatt-hours per year;
  • Glass panels to showcase the engineering, including quick response codes to allow visitors to use their smartphones to find out more;
  • Real-time measurements of the building’s indoor air quality, energy conservation, PV production and water levels;
  • A mini-weather station that sends data to the building so that it can make adjustments to maximize tenant comfort and energy conservation; and
  • Measurement of energy use down to the individual socket.

The Bullitt Center aims to be certified through the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous set of standards that requires the building to meet complete water and energy self-sufficiency.  The Living Building Challenge has registered nearly 150 projects in 10 countries, but only three buildings have been certified in the US (in Missouri, New York and Hawaii).  It has been endorsed by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), originator of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standard, and is not meant to be a competition, rather a challenge to architects and engineers to aim even higher in their sustainable design efforts.

The Bullitt Center is a project of the Bullitt Foundation, and its leaders state that if the building is still the highest-performing office building in ten years, then they have failed.  They want to demonstrate that a building can be both self-sustaining and commercially viable and to serve as an example for others to learn and innovate beyond what they've done. Read More »

Posted in Energy Efficiency| Also tagged , | Comments closed

Pecan Street Inc. Researchers’ Report Receives Outstanding Paper Award

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

With 1.8 gigawatts (GW) of solar power installed in 2011 and an expected 2.8 GW in 2012, it is safe to say that solar energy has solidified its role as an important part of our nation’s energy portfolio. Affordability, competitive financing and reduced greenhouse gases are just a few of the reasons why the number of solar installations has skyrocketed in the past several years.

Now, new research from Dr. Alexis Kwasinski, Dr. Fabian Uriarte, and Amir Toliyat, engineers from the University of Texas at Austin, sheds some light on how rapidly growing solar installations can work with the current electric grid. For their groundbreaking findings in "Effects of high penetration levels of residential photovoltaic generation," they were recently awarded an Outstanding Paper Award at the International Conference on Renewable Energy Research and Applications (ICRERA) in November for their in-depth research and innovative solutions.

Jump started by a $10.4 million grant from the Department of Energy, Pecan Street Inc. is a “community-wide collaboration to fully reinvent the energy delivery system”  based in Austin, Texas.  This living ‘smart grid laboratory’ provided a perfect data collection site for the researchers. Pecan Street’s leadership focuses on developing new technologies that reinvent the way we create and use energy, so that residents drive electric vehicles, invest in cutting-edge technology and, of course, use solar panels.

The massive amount of data gathered from Pecan Street’s efforts provided researchers the opportunity to analyze solar energy’s effect on the three key characteristics of “power quality” (voltage level, voltage unbalance and power factor).  The researchers found that energy inflections (voltage levels and voltage unbalance) did not create any major concerns with the power grid, despite unfounded claims to the contrary by some solar critics.

Digging further into the data, the researchers unexpectedly found that power factor could become a real issue if solar installers don’t use modern equipment that provides for power factor support.  While the issue could become very real at higher levels of solar penetration, the solution is simple, cheap and currently available; it simply means installers should begin using newer models of solar panel “inverters,” which convert solar power into electricity that can be fed into your grid and home.

Inverters simply convert raw DC power to AC power (i.e. the type of electricity we need to use everyday household items). Maximizing the amount of electricity that is converted into usable power makes solar energy more competitive, ensuring that it will remain an important and growing part of our nation’s energy mix.

It’s exciting to see that these researchers are receiving accolades for their groundbreaking work, and international acclaim is always an excellent motivator for this kind of work, but it’s nice to be appreciated where you hang your hat too.  Fortunately that doesn’t seem to be a problem, since earlier this year Austinites voted in the Best of Austin 2012 award by the Austin Chronicle for Best Way to Turn Some Green Even Greener.  Their choice: Pecan Street Inc.

Posted in Smart Grid, Texas| Tagged | 1 Response, comments now closed

Envision Charlotte Meets Pecan Street

Last week, I, along with several other Envision Charlotte Board Members travelled to visit the Pecan Street smart grid project in Austin, Texas.   We hope this will be the start of a recurring “exchange program” between the two cities for sharing of information and best practices related to smart grid deployment.  There are significant differences between the two projects.  Pecan Street is focused on the residential sector; Envision Charlotte on commercial office buildings.  Envision Charlotte is deploying innovative behavior change, social networking and employee training to reduce energy use, while Pecan Street is heavily focused on technology solutions. 

But, there is also a lot in common.  Both organizations desire to reduce energy use and find alternatives to our outdated energy system.  Both believe that smart grids and energy efficiency can be cost effective and drive economic development.  Finally, both groups are rigorously measuring the impacts of their actions. 

What we saw in Austin was very cool.  We started by visiting a home in the Mueller neighborhood, a playground for testing the latest in home energy management and appliances.  In one house’s garage was a wireless energy monitor that connects to the home’s circuit breaker box and allows homeowners to view real time energy use from different appliances and lighting systems in the home.  Residents now know exactly how much it is costing them to make coffee each morning – or power up their flat screen TV. 

Also in the garage was a Chevy Volt, along with four charging stations from different manufacturers (according to Pecan Street staff, they all perform roughly the same).  Up on the roof was a series of solar panels, whose every watt is being recorded to learn important things about installation location, potential for offsetting peak generation, and storage solutions.  Although each of these technologies are impressive on their own, only when operating together do they represent the next generation of home energy management where consumers have complete knowledge and control over their energy choices.  It’s pretty empowering.

This innovative project didn’t happen accidentally.  It came about through lots of perspiration from their Executive Director and former Austin Council Member Brewster McCracken; design recommendations from hundreds of folks in the private sector, local community and NGOs (including EDF); prodigious fundraising; and hard work from staff, board members, and participating companies.  Some of my key takeaways from the trip are as follows:

Residential Technology Still a Wild West – Unlike the commercial building automation universe, where users have more experience integrating energy management and building systems to speak the same code and talk to one another, residential systems are still in their infancy and competing languages make it extremely difficult to get different pieces of hardware to talk to one another.  Pecan Street will often need to write new code or develop other workarounds to get vendor equipment to work as described.  This is one of the reasons why EDF has joined the OPEN network, to help ensure that smart grid investments in different states maximize interoperability.

The Incredible Power of Data – Pecan Street collects a data point from each home circuit every 15 seconds.  With dozens of circuits per home and hundreds of participating homes in the Mueller development, the Pecan Street project has rapidly approached billions of discrete pieces of data that can be captured, sorted and analyzed.  Although a challenge to work with data sets this large, once properly harnessed, they provide incredible insights to consumers, utilities, researchers and policymakers on energy use.  Pecan Street can see exactly what happens to the grid when someone opens their refrigerator or micro-waves dinner, and use that information to develop strategies for homeowners that will reduce energy use and improve reliability.   

Test Technology, Scale, Inform Policy – Pecan Street is unique in its approach in several ways, but one of the most significant is that it enables a technology to policy pathway.  Pecan Street’s test labs experiment with the latest in home energy management technologies, present those solutions to homeowners in the Mueller neighborhood for adoption and enable EDF to identify regulatory or policy mechanisms that can further accelerate smart grid investment.  As an example, last year EDF was able to help secure provisions in a Texas energy bill that enable demand response programs and payments for utility customers.  This technology to policy approach is something that Envision Charlotte will need to reach our ambitious 5-year, 20% energy reduction goal.

All in all, it was an incredible trip.  Over the coming years, as Envision Charlotte develops more programs and scales its impact, we hope to repay the warm hospitality of Pecan Street by hosting their team in Charlotte and sharing what we have learned.  We’ll promise good conversation, great BBQ and a continued devotion to collaboration.

Posted in North Carolina, Smart Grid, Texas| Also tagged | Comments closed

Energy Innovation Series Feature #3: Smart Grid Consortium From Pecan Street Inc.

Throughout 2012, EDF's Energy Innovation Series will highlight more than 20 innovations across a broad range of energy categories, including smart grid and renewable energy technologies, energy efficiency financing, and progressive utilities, to name a few. This series will demonstrate that cost-effective, clean energy solutions are available now and imperative to lowering our dependence on fossil fuels.

For more information on this featured innovation, please view this video on Pecan Street Inc.

The last few years have been somewhat of a blur for most of the people involved in Austin-based Pecan Street Inc. (Pecan Street).

"In 2008, this was an idea on a napkin in a coffee shop," says Brewster McCracken, the holder of the napkin and now executive director of Pecan Street. "In 2010 we secured funding to launch a smart grid demonstration project. In 2011 we established the most robust collection of consumer energy use data on the planet. We want to see how people interact with new technology options. What works, what people like, what impact it has on their energy use and the grid itself."

The organization strives to ‘re-imagine’ how we make, move and use energy on our existing system rather than reinvent the system itself. It has been tagged by the smart grid industry press as one of the hottest efforts in the country.

Pecan Street, which was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) non-profit in 2009, is an research and development consortium headquartered at the University of Texas at Austin. Its team consists of nearly a dozen staff and a web of researchers from the University of Texas and more than 10 member companies like Best Buy, Sony, Intel, Oncor, Texas Gas Service and Whirlpool Corporation. The Pecan Street board is comprised of members from the City of Austin, the Austin Chamber of Commerce, the University of Texas, the UT Clean Energy Incubator, Austin Energy and Environmental Defense Fund.

Source: Pecan Street Inc.

The deployment of 100 Volts in one square mile will be among the densest concentrations of plug-in vehicles in the country.

Pecan Street was initially funded through a $10 million grant from the Department of Energy, which was matched locally with another $14 million to conduct detailed research on the consumer energy usage and the smart grid. The organization also received funding by the Doris Duke Foundation to collect "energy lifestyle" data at 15-second intervals on a disaggregated level (measures 6 circuits) on 200 homes.

Its test bed is the Mueller community, a green-built redevelopment of the city's former airport. Just two miles from downtown Austin, Mueller is one of the hottest zip codes in town for people looking for clean, green urban living. Over the course of the five-year demonstration project, Pecan Street will deploy smart grid technology — home energy management systems, solar panels, electric vehicles, new pricing models and more — in up to 1,000 homes in and around Mueller. And did we mention that Pecan Street is the world’s largest LEED-ND certified community?

So far, Pecan Street has loaded up Mueller with some remarkable smart grid stats: a third of the homes have solar panels and, by this summer, 100 Chevy Volts will be tooling around town and parking (and recharging) within Mueller's one-square-mile radius.

Greentech Media calls Pecan Street “the most ambitious EV-solar-smart-grid integration project in the United States.”

And this spring, the organization broke ground on the country's first smart grid commercialization lab, located among the homes and retail in Mueller, that will serve as a testing facility with nationally unique opportunities for commercialization, research and education.

Posted in Energy Innovation Series, General| Tagged | Comments closed