Guiding Cleantech: UC Davis Energy Efficiency Center Leads the Way

Ben Finkelor is the Executive Director of Energy Efficiency Center at UC Davis, and a Graduate of the UC Davis School Management. In this blog, he discusses EEC objectives, as well practical applications for research they conduct.

Established in 2006, the Energy Efficiency Center (EEC) was created to accelerate the development and commercialization of energy efficiency technologies and to train future leaders in energy efficiency. Our initiatives cover any industry where inroads can be made: saving energy in commercial and residential buildings, in the food and beverage industry, in industrial applications – you name it.  We have particular expertise in lighting, cooling and heating, water treatment, and transportation.  Our research and educational programs are focused on best practices and technologies, regardless of where they come from, that hold promise for energy efficiency, both locally and internationally.

As an organization, the EEC serves as an umbrella institution for all of the energy efficiency related activities and initiatives here on the UC Davis campus, including entities such as the California Lighting Technology Center, the Western Cooling Efficiency Center, the UC Davis Center for Water-Energy Efficiency, and the Plug-in Hybrid & Electric Vehicle Research Center to name a few. Our role is to empower these organizations to successfully impact society — we work hard to link their university

From Theory to Practice

What’s most exciting to me is the ability to directly see the results of our research be practically applied. Several of our sponsors work with us to develop solutions that solve immediate and specific problems for their particular businesses, but these solutions also have wider implications for adaptation. For example, both our lighting and cooling centers have been working closely with Walmart to make their stores more energy efficient.  During our efforts to optimize the level of electrical lighting in their stores (admidst the available daylighting provided by their skylights), our researchers patented a new technology that cost-effectively “harvests” daylighting – effectively turning the lights off when their not needed, but making sure they’re on when there isn’t enough ambient light.  This complex algorithm, yet elegant solution, has been licensed to multiple manufacturers and has the potential to now be implemented in over 5,000 Walmart stores nationally and internationally. Even better, this technology, when commercialized in the coming years, can be applied to similar size structures with skylights, whether in retail or not.

The Proof is in the Pudding

The EEC is perhaps most famously known for its involvement in facilitating UC Davis West Village to become the largest planned zero net energy (ZNE) community in the country. This mixed-use neighborhoody, which combines both residential and retail structures, is designed to generate as much energy as it consumes. It was opened in August of 2011 and over the coming years, we expect to learn more and more about the challenges and best practices of ZNE at the community scale.

West Village is a critical waypoint;  it is designed to meet one of California’s “Big/Bold” Energy Efficiency strategic goals for real estate development — by 2020, all new residential buildings will be zero net energy, and by 2030, all new commercial buildings will be zero net energy.  Even before West Village welcomed in its new residents last year, the complex has generated a lot of buzz, including an steady stream of visitors. Domestic groups and international delegations travel to Davis specifically to tour West Village and learn more. Groups from China and Dubai are especially prevalent. It’s rewarding to experience the level of curiosity and excitement generated by visitors as they realize the implications of this project.

Influencing Policy

In addition to industry partners, the EEC works collaboratively with policymakers at the state and federal level to develop building and appliance codes and standards that will impact long-term energy consumption of society. We serve as an important, highly-credible, third party institution that can provide impartial analysis when necessary.  At the same time, we can serve as a convener and a facilitator of productive dialogue between policy makers and industry stakeholders. By acting as a nexus for discussion, the EEC and its affiliated research centers have becomes very influential in shaping what gets adopted into code, developing solutions that ultimately benefit everyone.

UC Davis Executive Education develops custom education programs for leaders in the Cleantech and Energy Efficiency industries. For more information on building a custom program, please contact Managing Director Wendy Beecham.


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