For Immediate Release: February 24, 2011
Media Contact: Sandy Louey - 916-654-4989


Energy Commission Awards Nearly $3.5 Million for Research Projects

The California Energy Commission awarded $3,454,247 for research projects tackling issues including reducing energy use, improving grid reliability, and saving fuel in light-duty vehicles. Funds for the eight research projects come from the Commission's Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program.

"California's strength comes from the ability to invest in energy research across the board. By wisely investing ratepayer dollars we've leveraged nearly $3.5 million with federal and private funds to deliver $87 million -- nearly a 25-to-1 return -- to California universities and businesses. Clearly, PIER demonstrates a remarkable investment for all Californians," said Commissioner Jeffrey Byron.

On Wednesday, the Energy Commission approved $1 million to the University of California at Los Angeles' Institute of the Environment and Sustainability to create a comprehensive tool that evaluates and analyzes regional energy use and its environmental and socioeconomic impacts.

Assessing the sustainability of communities is important for cities and regions as they develop and implement land use and transportation policies designed to cut energy consumption and its negative impacts. The project includes developing standardized methods to assess regional sustainability, developing performance indicators to assess the impacts of energy use in California regions, and piloting the methodology in Los Angeles County to establish a regional energy baseline. The project will also update the Product Exchange and Consumption Allocation System model, which is used for sustainability planning and development, to include energy data. Research team members will come from UCLA, UC Berkeley, and UC Davis.

The Commission also awarded $999,743 to Electric Power Group, LLC of Pasadena to integrate synchrophasor technology at the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). A synchrophasor is a piece of hardware that provides real-time information about the performance of electrical transmission systems. The Western Interconnection Synchrophasor Program (WISP) will help improve the reliability of the bulk transmission power grid spanning 14 Western states by extending and deploying synchrophasor technologies in their electrical systems.

The funds are an essential part of a $54 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) award that the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), with Electric Power Group, received from the Department of Energy (DOE) for the WISP project. WECC will use $32 million of the ARRA funds for the WISP project. Another $29.2 million in additional funds will be coming from WECC and its member utilities for the WISP project.

In order to reap benefits for California and the interconnected Western grid, CAISO's efforts must seamlessly integrate with WECC's synchrophasor projects. Some promises of the technology include improved grid reliability, efficient operation and utilization of the grid, and stability monitoring in real time.

The six other projects that were approved were:

-Stanford University will receive $500,000 to conduct field studies on the effectiveness of energy awareness and motivational strategies in reducing residential energy use. The funds will leverage a $5,006,011 ARRA award that Stanford received from the DOE. Stanford is providing $790,971 for the project. Researchers will use sensors, software, and Web portals and databases to track energy use patterns. Some of the strategies that will be employed include providing real time energy use information to households through in-home sensors and home area networks, mobile applications for cell phones, games, community programs, and novel financial incentives.

Research results will allow utilities, governments, and regional operators to quantify and estimate the reductions attributable to specific programs and increase the range of behavioral techniques that can be used to motivate households and help the state reach its energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emission reduction goals.

-PAX Scientific, Inc. will receive $287,757 to develop energy efficient server fans. The San Rafael-based company will provide $96,188 for the project.

Ten percent of the cooling energy consumed in data centers comes from server fans. Finding an efficient way to remove the heat generated within the server could improve energy efficiency in data centers. The redesigned PAX fans have the potential to cut energy use in data centers by 15 percent.

-SeaMicro, Inc. of Santa Clara will receive $250,000 to develop a prototype server that will replace volume servers in data centers. The funds will leverage a $9.3 million ARRA award that the company received from the DOE. The company is providing another $10,440,000 for the project.

The Energy Commission funds will be used to help accelerate the development and product availability of the prototype, which will use only about 25 percent of the power and space of traditional volume servers. The manufacturing costs for the prototype are also expected to be lower than traditional volume servers, which are the most common servers in data centers.

The technology has the potential to help reduce energy use since volume servers are the largest energy users in data centers. Data centers in California consume about three percent of the state's electricity, with volume servers being the largest energy users.

-UC's California Institute for Energy and Environment will receive $150,000 to find underutilized efficiency measures for light duty vehicles (LDVs). The research will focus on technologies that improve the efficiency of LDVs, technologies whose benefits may not be fully captured in current test procedures, innovations suitable for existing vehicles, and ancillary components and materials that may affect fuel efficiency in light duty vehicles.

Light-duty vehicles consist of cars and light trucks, including minivans, sport utility vehicles, and trucks with gross vehicle weight less than 8,500 pounds. The LDV sector consumes more than 81 percent of the state's oil and is responsible for about 79 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions in California. The federal and state governments have implemented programs to reduce fuel consumption in LDVs through such measures as new vehicle efficiency standards, low carbon fuel standards, and discouraging growth in vehicle miles traveled.

-UC Merced will receive $142,747 to perform a comprehensive life cycle analysis study of algae biofuels. The study fits into PIER's transportation research, which is to help support technology innovation that can result in reducing petroleum use in motor vehicles.

The work hopes to provide a better understanding of the energy and environmental implications of algae biofuels through meta-analysis of previous life cycle studies and new and unique life cycle analysis of residual biomass. Researchers will come from UC Merced and UC Riverside.

-UC Davis' Institute of Transportation Studies will receive $124,000 to look at future water demand from the production and use of transportation fuels in California. UC Davis will be providing $21,433 for the project.

The study will look at the water use of potential future transportation fuels including conventional and unconventional fossil fuels, biofuels, electricity, and hydrogen. The work will also identify strategies to reduce the water impacts such as increasing the recycling and reuse of water, substituting technology that requires less water, and water management. The environmental tradeoffs of the mitigation strategies will be evaluated.

The Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program supports public interest research and development that helps improve the quality of life in California by bringing environmentally safe, reliable, and affordable energy services and products to the marketplace. For more information, visit

Created by the California Legislature in 1974, the California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency. The Energy Commission has five major responsibilities: forecasting future energy needs and keeping historical energy data; licensing thermal power plants 50 megawatts or larger; promoting energy efficiency through appliance and building standards; developing energy technologies and supporting renewable energy; and planning for and directing state response to energy emergency.

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