Berkeley Lab Fights Excess Energy Usage

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Lawrence Lab and Energy Efficiency Standards

Assistant University News Editor Emma Anderson speaks with Claire Perlman about the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab's energy division and how the research done there has a national and internatinal impact as far as energy efficiency standards.


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Scientists at the energy technologies division of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory have traded in their microscopes and petri dishes, instead tinkering with refrigerators, televisions, laptop chargers and other common appliances as they seek to fight a constant battle against unnecessary energy consumption.

Since 1979, the lab's Energy Efficiency Standards group has been a contractor of the U.S. Department of Energy, conducting research for the department that often influences national policy. Such research - and influence - is fairly common for the lab's energy division. The energy crisis of the 1970s and the threat from climate change today have spurred a frenzy of research at national laboratories, including the Berkeley Lab.

Air conditioners, heaters, washing machines, dryers and even water heaters have all become the subjects of the lab's analysis in the last two decades.

One of the group's first projects was to configure a refrigerator - one of the least energy efficient household appliances - that consumes less energy. Their research was also the basis for two energy efficiency standards passed in 1989 and 1997 and another proposed Sept. 28 that, if passed, would go into effect in 2014.

Before the most recent proposal, refrigerator and freezer energy consumption was cut by more than two-thirds through the previous regulations, and with this newest standard, the department estimates that number could be reduced even farther - by 20 to 25 percent.

According to Robert Van Buskirk, formerly the program manager of Berkeley Lab's Energy Efficiency Standards group and current senior technical analyst in the appliance standards program at the energy department, the reports the department receives from the lab involve economic as well as scientific analysis.

He added that once the analysis is complete and recommendations are made, the department allows for public comment, permitting potentially opposing groups like environmentalists and manufacturers, as well as other interested parties, to present their own analysis.

"There is a science to looking at the benefits and costs of different policies and coming up with a net sum of both the benefits and costs," Van Buskirk said. "The Department of Energy depends upon the researchers to come up with in-depth, fairly objective analysis on the benefits and costs of different policies from different perspectives."

The Department of Energy is not Berkeley Lab's only governmental collaborator. The lab has an ongoing project with China to increase energy efficiency in buildings and also has sent researchers to Brussels to give energy advice to the European Union.

Alan Meier, a senior scientist in the Energy Analysis Department at the lab, testified in front of a European Parliament committee last September about smart meters.

"The thing that woke everyone up, including the members of the European Parliament that were present, was when I logged onto my smart meter in California for my house and showed them the electricity and gas consumption of my home in near-real time," Meier said. "They had never seen that before. They saw how important this could be as an information tool for consumers."

Meier said he made two simple recommendations to the parliament regarding the monitoring of personal energy consumption, both of which he said will most likely be incorporated into upcoming legislation.

The first was that all consumers should have access to personal energy consumption data online, which may seem like a given in the land of Northern California, where almost every house is equipped with a smart meter, but the idea is less intuitive in Europe, Meier said.

"Twenty-seven million consumers in Italy have smart meters, but they have no access and cannot see their energy consumption on the web," he said.

The second recommendation is to send the personal energy consumption data to a third party organization that can provide consumers with additional services, such as analyzing consumers' data and informing them when an appliance in their house is, for example, using more electricity than it should.

However, despite the working relationship the lab has with the energy department and other international governments, Meier said he prefers to remain uninvolved with the political side of science.

"If something is already elevated to the level of parliament, then it's become politicized," he said. "The real work gets done at a much lower level."

Tags: CHINA, ENERGY EFFICIENCY, LAWRENCE BERKELEY NATIONAL LABRATORY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF ENERGY, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT


Claire Perlman is the lead research and ideas reporter. Contact her at [email protected]



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