Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announces 3 energy-saving projects

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory announced Wednesday the launch of three research projects aimed at increasing energy efficiency for a variety of electrical devices.

The new projects tackle the energy consumption of different types of “plug loads” — devices that plug into walls — which constitute at least 25 percent of electricity usage in California buildings, according to a Berkeley Lab press release.

One of the projects, led by campus researchers Alan Meier and Richard Brown, seeks to find methods to use information networks to generate usable power and lower energy losses.

“We’re not alone in coming up with these ideas, but what we’re trying to do is provide a more comprehensive approach plus a few unusual twists,” Meier said.

One of these “twists” is finding ways that devices traditionally meant for transmitting information, such as USBs, can transmit power as well, according to Meier. If successful, Meier said, the project will provide a means of energy conservation and enhanced energy security, because the energy will be self-generated through information networks and stored in batteries.

All of the projects are being funded by the California Energy Commission as part of its Electric Program Investment Charge program. Research for the projects will last between two and three years, according to Brown.

Another energy efficiency project, led by campus researchers Evan Mills and Norman Bourassa, hopes to reduce the high energy consumption of gaming computers. Bourassa noted that the project is expected to last about two years.

According to Bourassa, the current high demand for photorealistic computer games requires more energy consumption from computers’ graphics processors.

If this energy is produced via carbon dioxide-intensive methods, Bourassa said, increased energy consumption leads to more carbon dioxide emissions. He added that no other project has successfully calculated the energy consumed by computer gaming systems.

Bourassa noted that once the team has results, the researchers will reach out to members of the gaming industry and present papers and hold conference to publicize their results.

The last project — set to take two years — focuses on “energy reporting,” which is “the principle that every device that uses electricity should be able to report on how much it uses to the local network, like a car odometer,” said Bruce Nordman, lead campus researcher for the project.

According to the press release, the project’s team hopes to establish a private network for building owners that would enable them to be more aware of how their energy is being used.

The team, Nordman said, is interested in standardizing communication protocols between various types of devices within buildings.

“You can do extra things to save energy for free, and that’s the best thing,” Nordman said.

The three projects have the potential to save California up to $2 billion in energy costs annually, according to the Berkeley Lab press release.

Ericka Shin covers research and ideas. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @ericka_shin.